It was fireworks when what was supposed to be a stakeholder launch of the controversial study on Botswana diamond mining sector turned into a verbal exchange between the leadership of Bench Marks Foundation and invited guests that included media, De Beers and Debswana.
The report was launched in Johannesburg on Wednesday.
Chairperson of Bench Marks Foundation, Right Reverend Dr Joe Seoka, revealed his organisation is an independent church-based NGO that monitors corporate performance.
He explained that the worry is that companies that were involved in ‘apartheid era are still operating in the SADC region’.
Hell broke loose when Seoka invited the press to ask questions only to cut short the proceedings after accusing the journalists of being De Beers agents.
“You must be ashamed of yourself,” said Seoka in his diatribe.
“Whenever journalists stand to ask a question, they look at where De Beers is seated,” he reacted angrily as journalist after journalist punched holes in the research.
The reverend was angered by a question from a journalist who asked Bench Mark to say where they got the mandate to produce such a damning report about Botswana.
The media had uncovered several inaccuracies in the study, like the one alleging that people of Botswana seek redress at Office of the President rather than at the courts of law.
The other statement that angered the media was when it was said former Mmegi Editor, Mesh Moeti, was fired from the newspaper in 2005 after the then Presidential Spokesperson Jeff Ramsey visited the paper.
“It is intriguing that both Debswana and De Beers went to the media and rubbished the report without reference to the report. Every member of the press has represented De Beers well,” said Seoka.
The reverend, who was accompanied by other bishops from the continent, then attacked The Sunday Standard saying the paper did not bother to read the report before trivialising De Beers and Debswana responses.
“I found it unprofessional for Sunday Standard and De Beers to attack the messenger (referring to Lead Researcher David van Wyk). I accepted to be attacked as the Chairperson. It was unbecoming to attack the researcher,” he stated.
Despite the reverend promising that the report would be discussed before being launched, the discussions were cut short when a De Beers representative asked to be given a chance to make a point.
“I am chairing the meeting. The people of the continent have sent us to help the continent. It is a pity that you behave like street people; journalists are supposed to be professionals,” said an angry Seoka, before prematurely declaring the report has been launched.
Matters nearly got out of hand when De Beers representative James Suzman offered to distribute their response only to be ordered to do that outside the conference room.