/ 13 December 2006

Website stands up to De Beers over Bushmen

An anti-De Beers website, Boycottdebeers.com, was launched on Tuesday, accusing the South African diamond company and the Botswana government of forcing the country’s Bushmen from their land.

Four different tribes of Bushmen (Gana, Gwi, Tsila and Bakgalagadi) live in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR), which was created to protect the traditional territory of the Bushmen and the game on which they depend, according to Boycottdebeers.com.

The website says the CKGR lies in the middle of the richest diamond-producing area in the world, and that in three big campaigns — in 1997, 2002 and 2005 — Debswana, the partly state-owned company that controls Botswana’s mines along with De Beers, forced out almost all the Bushmen into camps outside the reserve. The Bushmen refer to the camps as “places of death”.

For this reason, the site accuses De Beers of producing “conflict diamonds”.

But De Beers spokesperson Tom Tweedy has said that 100% of De Beers diamonds come from “conflict-free sources”.

“There is no connection between diamonds and the relocation of the San from Botswana’s vast Central Kalahari Game Reserve,” said Tweedy in October.

“The government of Botswana has stated that the relocation of the San communities has nothing to do with diamonds, but is being carried out to provide the San with better educational, health and social amenities,” he said.

The launch of the website coincides with Wednesday’s ruling on claims by hundreds of Bushmen that they are being forced off their land by the Botswana government. The ruling will be passed in the High Court in Gaborone.

A statement released on Tuesday by the First People of the Kalahari, the organisation representing the Bushmen, said the Bushmen fear they will be gunned down at the courts.

The Bushmen said that in September they were shot at when they tried to return home to the CKGR after they had been forced from their homes in 2005.

“We are afraid [Clifford] Maribe, [the presidential spokesperson] is going to send the police to shoot at us again, before the judgement is made in court tomorrow. The intelligence, the police — we are afraid of them,” read the statement.


Boycottdebeers.com quotes supermodels Lily Cole, Iman and Erin O’Connor, as well as Oscar-winner Julie Christie. The models all stopped working for De Beers after the Botswana government’s evictions of Bushmen from the CKGR were linked to diamond finds on their land.

“I was unaware of these matters [the Bushmen evictions] when I was booked for the shoot,” said Cole.

“It was clear the Bushmen were being destroyed. You take people from their element and you end up with Aids, drugs and alcohol in the guise of advancement,” said Iman.

Speaking to the Mail & Guardian Online on Wednesday, Tweedy said he thinks the website is “unnecessary” and to target De Beers is “disingenuous”.

“There’s a boycott against a diamond mine that doesn’t even exist. There are no diamond mines in that area [the CKGR] and even if there were, De Beers would be the last people to relocate people,” he said. “The NGOs know full well that we have nothing to do with [the Bushmen’s] removal. We do not seek to move people.”

In an appeal to actor Leonardo DiCaprio that is also published on the website, Bushmen ask the actor to help them return home.

The appeal reads: “These are conflict diamonds because diamonds are the root of our sorrow and pain. They [diamonds] caused us to be moved from the land of our ancestors. We ask you to please, please help us. We think people will listen to you because you are famous and respected.”

DiCaprio starred in the film Blood Diamond, about a South African mercenary in 1990s war-torn Sierra Leone and his quest for a pink diamond. The film has helped bring attention to conflict diamonds and put industry players such as De Beers on the defensive.

The illegal trade in conflict diamonds has fuelled and funded wars in Africa, killing millions in Angola, Sierra Leone, Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Yet despite their notorious reputation, conflict diamonds make up less than 1% of the global trade in the sparkling gemstone, according to a recent South African report called The Stuff of Legends.

The report examines diamonds and development in Southern Africa. It says there has been a decline in the amount of conflict diamonds being traded, from about 15% in the mid-1990s.