Conflict diamonds from Basarwa’s homeland in Kalahari go on sale for Valentine’s Day

Friday 13 February 2015

The mine of Gem Diamonds lies on the traditional territory of Basarwa in Botswana’s Kalahari Desert. The government has been illegally evicting the community ever since diamond was discovered in the region

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The first batch of diamonds mined from the ancestral land of Africa’s hunter-gatherer tribe Basarwa have reportedly gone on sale for Valentine’s Day, while the tribe continues to face persecution by the Botswana government which has been trying to drive them from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR).

The government has always denied that diamonds were the reason for the forced evictions of the indigenous community between 1997 and 2005 and claims that its aim is to protect the wildlife. But in September 2014, one company, Gem Diamonds, opened a US $4.9 billion mine on the land of the Gope community of the Basarwa tribe.

CKGR lies in the middle of the richest diamond-producing area in the world, with the land of Gope holding at least one major diamond deposit. Many “kimberlites” (volcanic rock in which diamonds are found) are present in the reserve. According to non-profit Survival International, De Beers in May 2007 sold its deposit at Gope to Gem Diamonds, for US $34 million. Gem Diamonds has stated publicly that the Gope mine (renamed Ghaghoo) contains a diamond deposit worth an estimated US $4 billion.

Another company, Petra Diamonds, is also drilling in a large area of the eastern CKGR, including in the territory of the Basarwa tribe.

The Botswana government has also reportedly opened up large parts of the CKGR to international companies for fracking. Media reports say that exploration concessions cover half of the CKGR—a reserve larger than Switzerland. Licences have been granted to Australian Tlou Energy and African Coal and Gas Corporation, without consulting the community, for drilling exploratory wells for coalbed methane.

Evicted for diamond

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For generations, the Basarwa have lived sustainably alongside the wildlife of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve that was created as a “place of sanctuary” for the tribe to continue their way of life as hunter-gatherers in 1961. But after diamonds were discovered in the reserve in the 1980s, the government began to force the community off their ancestral homeland.

In three big clearances in 1997, 2002 and 2005, the government trucked away the community to outside the reserve. Their huts were dismantled, schools and health posts closed and their water supply destroyed. Although the Basarwa won the right in court to go back to their lands in 2006, the government did everything it could to make their return impossible. This included cementing their only water borehole in the desert. 

At the same time, the government drilled new boreholes for wildlife and allowed safari company, Wilderness Safaris, to open a tourist camp in the reserve. 

The community launched further litigation against the government to gain access to their borehole. Although their application was initially dismissed, in January 2011 Botswana’s Court of Appeal ruled that the Basarwa can use their old borehole and sink new ones in the reserve as well. The judges described the community’s plight as “a harrowing story of human suffering and despair”.

According to Survival International, two successive court cases have not deterred the government attempts to uproot the community from their land. 

The Basarwa tribe’s right to hunt for food is a fundamental human right confirmed by Botswana’s High Court, but the country’s president General Seretse Khama Ian Khama has illegally banned all hunting in the country—except for wealthy trophy hunters, says Survival’s Director Stephen Corry said today. Tribal people and Survival International are calling on the United for Wildlife conference in Botswana to issue a statement on tribal subsistence hunting. “Is it criminal or is banning it criminal?” he asks.

 

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