Survival International last week tried to shame another major diamond corporation with the taint of supporting the government of Botswana, which is continuing to persecute the G/wi. SI organized a well-publicized protest at the flagship store of Graff Diamonds on New Bond Street in London on Tuesday afternoon.
According to the SI press release, the point of the protest was to urge Graff to withdraw its investment in Gem Diamonds, which is planning to open up a mining operation shortly in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR). SI indicated it had written to celebrities who were known to wear Graff diamonds to urge them to stop supporting the company. The celebrities contacted include Elizabeth Hurley, Naomi Campbell, and Victoria Beckham.
Earlier SI campaigns against DeBeers included pressure on celebrities Iman and Lily Cole, who then withdrew their contact with that company. DeBeers ultimately sold its interest in the Botswana diamond mining to Gem Diamonds. Laurence Graff, owner of Graff Diamonds, has bought a 9 percent stake in Gem Diamonds, so Graff is now involved in the CKGR diamond project too.
SI does not argue that Gem or Graff had anything to do with the persecution of the G/wi and the other San peoples, who were forced off their lands in the CKGR by the Botswana government in 2002. Even though the San people won a 2006 decision in the nation’s highest court that found the government was quite wrong in removing the people from their communities, Botswana has made it nearly impossible for the G/wi to return to their homes in the desert. Most have continued to live in terrible conditions in the resettlement camps.
A recent move by the Botswana government to permit Gem Diamonds to begin mining included a provision that allowed the company to drill for water, but forbade it from providing any to the San people who live in the vicinity. The government had earlier destroyed the one borehole that the people had used for their water. SI, in its actions against Gem—and now Graff—is trying everything possible to pressure the government into allowing the people to return to their homes.
Stephen Corry, director of SI, told the press that Graff should have anticipated the negative publicity from getting involved with a mining operation near the San settlements. “Does it really want to be known as the company that mined its diamonds while the Bushmen died of thirst?” he asked rhetorically.
Another spokesperson for SI also commented, “most leading mining and [jewelry] companies have an ‘indigenous policy’ based on consultation and consent with the people who own the land, and if Graff doesn’t have one, it ought to. Consumers have a choice to buy diamonds, but I think they should exercise that choice with the knowledge of what is happening to the bushmen.”
According to one news report, 30 protesters gathered for an hour and a half Tuesday in front of the Graff store holding placards with the statements “Botswana diamonds: Bushmen despair” and “Boycott Graff.” Evidently SI also sent spoof valentines to the three celebrities associated with Graff titled “Pretty/Ugly” to highlight the association of the company with Gem Diamonds and the mining operation that will soon be opened in the CKGR.