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De Beers urges Botswana to halt Bushmen evictions

Published by MAC on 2005-12-05

De Beers urges Botswana to halt Bushmen evictions

By Spencer Mogapi

5th December 2005

GABORONE (Reuters) - The world's top diamond company, De Beers, is pressing Botswana to stop removing San Bushmen from their land for fear high-profile protests will hurt sales of the precious stones, the government and De Beers said on Monday.

A spokesman for President Festus Mogae said De Beers Chairman Nicky Oppenheimer had urged Botswana to reconsider its policies of relocating San Bushmen from the vast Central Kalahari Game Reserve.

But despite a potentially damaging campaign by British pressure group Survival International, the government had no plans to change its stance on the Bushmen, who have lived in southern Africa as hunter-gatherers for thousands of years.

"De Beers is worried that the Survival International campaign has the potential to hurt Botswana diamond sales," said spokesman Jeff Ramsay. "But to be honest they did not bring anything new to the table."

Botswana, the world's top diamond producer by value, has moved hundreds of San Bushmen from their traditional hunting grounds in the Central Kalahari saying they must leave the reserve to benefit from education, water and health services.

But Survival International says the government wants to free up land for potential diamond mining and has accused it of torturing evicted Bushmen, leading high-profile protests against De Beers and picketing of a glitzy New York store launch.

The government and De Beers deny the relocations have anything to do with diamonds, but De Beers is worried the campaign will tarnish its image in the West.

De Beers Botswana Managing Director Sheila Khama confirmed that the firm, which operates the diamond mines that have given the once-poor country one of the highest per capita incomes in Africa, was worried the Bushman spat could hurt sales.

Ramsay said the only route to compromise was for the First People of the Kalahari -- a group representing the Bushmen which is backed by Survival International -- to drop a court case against the government aimed at stopping evictions.

Hearings into the case began last year but have been repeatedly adjourned due to legal delays and a lack of funds on the part of the San Bushmen to pay their legal team.

Ramsay said the San Bushmen should sever ties with Survival International and urge the NGO to halt its campaign against Botswana.

The Bushmen issue has touched a raw nerve in the largely desert southern African country of 1.7 million and some commentators say it has damaged Botswana's credentials as a rare African example of good governance and democracy.

De Beers is 45 percent owned by Anglo American. De Beers runs Botswana's mines in conjunction with the government.

Ramsay said Botswana would meet De Beers again soon to discuss the issue.

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