The court case between the G/wi and G//ana people and the government of Botswana has again been delayed, this time at the request of the lawyer for the San peoples. Final oral arguments before the High Court of Botswana had been expected to start on August 28, but the written submission by the government, promised by August 11, was not made available to the San attorney until August 23.
Because of the government’s delay, the attorney argued he did not have enough time to prepare his response. The High Court agreed. He now has until today to file his written submission. Then, oral arguments are scheduled to be heard next week, September 4 to 8. After that, it will be up to the court to reach a decision.
A number of news columns in this website have provided background to this story. The government of Botswana still denies that the expulsion of the G/wi and G//ana from their ancestral homes in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) had anything to do with the search for diamonds, but its position is questionable.
President Festus Mogae of Botswana himself as much as admitted that the issue was about Botswana’s unfettered access to the diamond wealth within the country. The idea that the G/wi and G//ana peoples could continue to live in their traditional homes—a concept that even De Beers has no problem with—is apparently not acceptable to the government.
An interesting article in the July issue of the British journal African Business gives some hints as to why. Only an extract is available on the website of the publisher, but it might be worth consulting in libraries. While the reporter sent to Botswana, Barry Baxter, had access to President Mogae, it is not clear how much, or if, he discussed the issue with the G/wi and the G//ana themselves.
Baxter’s history of the San peoples who lived in the CKGR was based on President Mogae’s perspective. The author quotes Mogae’s belief that the San peoples historically did not live in the CKGR except at government sufferance. The journalist, and in fact President Mogae, should read the effective anthropological accounts by George Silberbauer, particularly his 1981 book Hunter and Habitat in the Central Kalahari Desert, to get accurate background.
Coverage of the current dispute in the African Business article is more worthwhile. Baxter indicates that nothing is going to be resolved, no compromises will be seriously attempted, perhaps even after the case is decided. If Botswana loses, President Mogae says that the government will appeal.
If Survival International, the British human rights group that has been championing the San case, loses, they also may continue the case.
The issue is not just about access to diamonds in the CKGR, or about San residents getting in the way of diamond exploration. Instead, to judge by Baxter’s report, it appears as if the royalties might ultimately be claimed by residents of the land: the G/wi and the G//ana. Under growing international precedents, indigenous peoples are increasingly gaining fair portions of the royalties from mining activities on lands they have traditionally occupied. The government of Botswana appears to be opposed to that scenario.
De Beers, for its part, does not want to alienate world opinion.
“Where mining operations are likely to impact on a community’s rights or interests, De Beers is committed to engaging with them transparently and openly, with a view to seeking their free and informed consent before initiating operations,” a company spokesperson said. “ Botswana is no exception.” Perhaps the protests against De Beers over this issue last year are continuing to have an impact in the boardroom.
Unfortunately, Survival International and several nongovernmental organizations in Botswana have drifted apart in their thinking about the appropriate strategy to pursue. A coalition of six NGOs say they are looking for a compromise with the government. “We do not seek international hype, we seek to resolve the issues,” they said in a statement in May.
The leader of Survival International, Stephen Corry, is skeptical. He maintains that the San people themselves have always indicated they want the maximum amount of international focus on the issue to counter the government’s expropriation of their lands. He concludes that the San peoples “must not be sold out by local NGOs presenting a very watered down version of what they [the San] are really asking for.” Corry does believe that commercial diamond mining could easily take place in the CKGR if arrangements were made that respected the rights of the indigenous people.
One of the problems is that De Beers has not, as yet, found commercially viable diamond deposits in the CKGR. Until it does, or it announces that there is really no hope for diamond exploitation, nothing is likely to prompt the parties to climb down from their positions. Whether the two sides can reach a compromise solution that respects the rights of indigenous minority peoples as well as the financial needs of the government of Botswana remains to be seen.