The Bushmen saga--nothing more than a divisive factor?

Author:Baxter, Barry
Position:Botswana
 
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Over the past few years, Survival International has carried out a high profile campaign accusing the government of Botswana of removing people from the Kalahari region in order to exploit mineral resources in the area. Botswana has strongly denied this. With emotions running high and with a court case hearing arguments, it is difficult to separate fact from conjecture. In order to do so, we sent Barry Baxter to discuss the issue with the parties concerned, including the national president, Festus Mogae. Here is his report.

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The issue is not a simple case of big business bullying a small group of people as it is often portrayed in the mass media. There are complex factors involved.

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That the Bushmen residents of Botswana's Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) should be relocated was decided in principle 20 years ago. The first group moved out 10 years later. The aim, says the government, was to allow the Bushmen to enjoy the benefits of the country's mainstream development such as free healthcare and education and to protect its natural resources.

The country's five-year-old High Court case to decide if the relocations are unconstitutional is winding up arguments, but a ruling is not expected for some months and is not certain to end the affair. "We will appeal until we are victorious," President Festus Mogae has made clear.

Mogae's main critic, Survival International (SI) director Stephen Corry claims the conflict could be over 'quite literally tomorrow' if Botswana would abandon a hidden agenda to deny the Bushmen any chance to claim royalties from potential mining in the reserve.

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Constitutionally, mineral rights in Botswana belong to the state and benefits from mining activities should be enjoyed by all citizens. But President Mogae, Stephen Corry and mining company De Beers are conscious of the swing in world opinion that recognises the claims of some indigenous communities on the land and the resources over which they live.

Corry says "mining and the Bushmen could coexist in the CKGR if the mines were established and operated with sensitivity and respect."

The mining companies involved so far seem to find little fault with this scenario, even to the extent of negotiating the rights and interests of the Bushmen. Diamonds are the most likely resource to be mined in the reserve; but major player De Beers--which is the operating partner in a joint venture over a confirmed but as yet uneconomic reserve in the CKGR at Gope--has a complex relationship with Mogae's government.

Botswana is the world's largest supplier of gemstone diamonds. De Beers is a 50/50 partner in Botswana mining company Debswana. Its International Diamond Trading Company (IDTC) currently markets Botswana's 30m-plus carats annual production which forms 60% of the IDTC's trade and a third of the world's diamonds.

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In May, De Beers chairman Nicky Oppenheimer renewed...

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