State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2012 - Case study: Basarwa evicted over diamonds

While Botswana's government has never officially admitted to forcibly relocating the G/wi and G//ana communities of the Basarwa indigenous group to make way for diamond-mining operations in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR), critics have long suspected this to be the main motivation for the removals. When it became known in late 2010 that Gem Diamonds would begin mining operations in the CKGR, suspicions seem to have been confirmed.

Basarwa were granted the rights to occupy land within the CKGR, as a result of a court ruling in 2006, after years of attempted negotiations, struggle and litigation. Unfortunately, the victory was bitter-sweet as the government interpreted the ruling in the strictest way possible, only allowing the 189 actual applicants to return to the reserve. They also refused to provide services within the park or to re-open the waterholes that had been closed since 2002. The justification for this was that the Basarwa communities had already been adequately compensated through the provision of land and services in the form of settlements outside of the park.

In its press releases about the opening of its US$ 3 billion Gope mine, Gem Diamonds made it clear that they would work with the CKGR residents to ensure that the communities benefited from the mine. However, many of the promises made by Gem Diamonds have yet to be delivered. In addition to promising to drill four new waterholes for the communities, the company told representatives of Botswana Khwedom Council (BKC), a local NGO, that they would establish a community trust so that communities could benefit from the mining operations. The Gope mine management also met with community representatives and asked for advice regarding hiring members of the indigenous group. As of early 2012, only one of the existing waterholes has been reopened, no trust had been established, and it is unclear whether members of the communities will be hired or not.

Furthermore, there is concern over monitoring and ensuring that the needs of the communities in the CKGR are met, as organizations such as the BKC are refused permission to enter the reserve and speak to residents about the conditions they live in. With the mine officially opening in 2013, it is uncertain when the communities will begin to reap the benefits of diamond-mining on their land. In the meantime, they continue to live in abject poverty, still cut off from government services.

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