Saturday, December 3, 2022

Indigenous communities accuse Debswana of sitting on critical report  

A tug of war between Botswana Khweedom Council(BKC) and Debswana Mining Company over relocation of Basarwa/ Bakhwee to pave way for the establishment of Debswana- Orapa Letlhakane and Damtshaa Mines(OLDM) may be far from over.

The BKC accuses the diamond company for deliberately sitting on the much needed report from the University Of Botswana (UB, which has detailed information on the history of Basarwa who were repatriated from the mine to facilitate their compensation.

The BKC is a non-governmental organization that represents the interests of Basarwa.

Basarwa/ Bakhwee families were relocated from the mining area in the early 60’s and 70’s to pave way for mining activity by the company.  According to BKC, over 300 Basarwa who were displaced have not been compensated by the diamond mining company hitherto.

The organization claims that when negotiations started to compensate Basarwa who were removed from the mining area including extension of Orapa mining area for a game park,  Debswana  management made a plea with government and Basarwa to be given time to engage stakeholders to establish whether indeed the families that were relocated were of the Bakhwee/ Basarwa origin and to establish the authenticity of their complaints. The University of Botswana History Department was engaged to conduct the research and compile a report to facilitate the compensation process.

Speaking to the Sunday Standard in an interview last week, BKC Spokesperson Banyatsi Salutu said Debswana is now silent on the issue despite that the report is complete.

“We wrote several letters to Debswana demanding to be furnished with the report but the response we only got was that the Ministry of Minerals and Energy was tasked with giving us the report. When we approached the Ministry we were only told that Debswana was the one in a position to do so as the report was commissioned by Debswana. We also believe the ministry was correct,” he said.

Sunday Standard is in possession of a letter written to Debswana Management from BKC dated 07 March 2010 where BKC is demanding to be furnished with the report. Salutu said they are now very certain that the research was completed by the University of Botswana and handed to Debswana which is deliberating sitting on it.

“We are very certain that the research was completed and Debswana does not want to come forth with the report. Professor Maitseo Bolaane who is the Head of Department in the History Department at the University of Botswana divulged to Khweedom Council that the report was completed and was handed to Debswana. She however said Debswana warned UB not to share the report with Botswana Khweedom Council as the company might sue the learning institution. Up to this day efforts to solicit that report to help in the compensation process have been futile,” said Salutu

On the other hand, Debswana through its Corporate Affairs Manager (External) Agatha Sejoe has in the past admitted to the Sunday Standard enquiries that the company has been aware of such complaints from Basarwa. She confirmed that Debswana commissioned a study to establish the facts or veracity of these complaints, given the passage of time.

“A study was undertaken; however the outcome was inconclusive due to a dearth of documentation and records. The historians therefore recommended that a “more” detailed inquiry on these issues be done in the future,” she said.

Sejoe said in that light Debswana has not at this stage been able to establish with certainty the identity of people who were relocated and those who were not compensated. Salutu has however rubbished the statement from Debswana as not true.

“The company is deliberately sitting on this important report not to compensate Basarwa who were relocated from their ancestral areas. Their relocation has led to them living in abject poverty as some of them lost their meager properties and were deprived their traditional way of life,” he said

However reached for a further enquiry on this issue, Debswana Corporate Affairs Manager Sejoe maintained last week that the recommendations of the UB Study to conduct further studies have not been implemented yet. She said given the complexity of the matter due to its historical nature, Debswana has yet to establish the feasibility of doing so.

“Nonetheless we remain fully cognizant of the immediate needs of the Basarwa communities in Boteti and for that reason, Debswana has taken deliberate steps to exercize our social responsibility and empower the Basarwa communities through the implementation of community based Socio-Economic Empowerment projects in Malatswae, Khwee, Makolwane, Setoto and Metsiaela,” she said.

She said the projects are expected to create lasting economic activity that will benefit the communities over a long-term.

Sejoe said it is their intention as Debswana as per their Corporate Social Investment Strategy to continue, a part of their wider “Building Forever” goals to identify and address emergent needs of these communities on an ongoing basis through other socio-economic development projects that will continue to uplift these communities beyond the life of the mine.

“We continue to engage extensively with our communities. The multi-million pula Debswana funded projects are a testament to that as we implement them in partnership with the representative bodies of these Basarwa communities,” she said.

Reached for comment Prof Bolaane, who was part of the academic team that undertook the study, declined to comment  protesting that she was no longer the Head of the Department of History at UB.

“I am no longer Head of the Department. It would look like I am undermining the current leadership if I attend to your request,” she cried.

She however referred this reporter to the current Head of Department in the Department of History at UB Dr Boga Manatsha. Several efforts to contact his mobile phone last week were futile as his phone rang unanswered.

RELATED STORIES

Read this week's paper