Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Is Debswana deliberately sitting on UB report not to compensate Basarwa

Over 300 Basarwa (San) families, who were relocated from Orapa, Letlhakane, and Damtshaa areas as early as the 1970s to make way for Debswana mining activities in Orapa and Letlhakane, are currently in limbo following the decision by the mining company to commission a report to verify their compensation claims over relocation.

The Botswana Khweedom Council (BKC), a Non-Governmental Organization that represents Basarwa, claims that when negotiations started to compensate Basarwa who were removed from the mining area, including the extension of Orapa mining area for a game park, Debswana management pleaded with the government and Basarwa to be given time in 2010 to engage stakeholders to establish whether indeed the relocated families were of Basarwa origin and to authenticate their complaints. The University of Botswana (UB) History Department was then engaged to conduct the research and compile a report to facilitate the compensation process. However, the report has not been made available, and there has been no proper communication to that effect.

BKC Spokesperson, Banyatsi Salutu, told The Telegraph in an interview last week that they are not happy, as they feel that the diamond mining company is negotiating in bad faith and does not have the plight of Basarwa at heart, as this report is long overdue.

“The information we gathered is that Debswana has the report and does not want to share it with us. Basarwa were relocated from their ancestral areas where they made a living as hunters and gatherers. Some of them lived through farming and had properties. They are currently languishing in poverty as their properties were destroyed when they were displaced. Some of them have since passed on without being compensated.”

The Telegraph possesses a follow-up letter written to Debswana on the 11th of January 2024 by BKC, demanding to meet the mining company over the report and facilitate compensation.

Part of the letter reads, “We seek access to the study commissioned by Debswana in collaboration with the University of Botswana History Department. This study was intended to authenticate assertions made by the Khweedom Council regarding the absence of compensation for individuals relocated in the 1970s to facilitate mining activities.”

“Concerns persist regarding the adequacy of compensation provided to individuals displaced from Damtshaa mine and the extension of Debswana Rhino Park. Some affected parties purportedly did not receive compensation, warranting investigation,” reads the letter.

In the letter, BKC also asserts that affected persons who relinquished their land for mining purposes were not adequately provided with alternative land, exacerbating the loss of their ancestral land. BKC maintains that the main aim of addressing these pressing matters is to seek equitable resolution and justice for the affected communities, particularly those residing in Buuhe, Maphanephabe, Makolwane, Phase 1 wards, and the so-called Maipaahela areas in Letlhakane, where Basarwa were relocated.

“In light of the gravity of these concerns, we earnestly request a definitive response regarding the proposed meeting. We propose convening this pivotal discussion on the 22nd of February 2024,” reads the letter.

Responding to The Telegraph’s questions last week Thursday, Senior Corporate Affairs Manager at Debswana Matshidiso Kamona said indeed, the University of Botswana was commissioned to conduct a study to verify the compensation claims. She said the study was completed. She, however, said in the report, UB stated that the findings were inconclusive since “there are no records” regarding Orapa and Letlhakane. Kamona also acknowledged that they received the follow-up letter from Botswana Khweedom Council regarding these complaints.

“Yes, we confirm receipt of the letter which contains a proposal for a meeting between Debswana and Khweedom Council, consistent with the way the two organizations have always been collaborating to reconcile the historical issues to a logical conclusion,” she said.

She said it is Debswana’s interest to conclude the matter. She added that engagements, both physical and through correspondence, have been taking place between Debswana and Khweedom Council, owing to the stakeholder relationship that the two organizations have established. She said, “this is done with the view to identify and resolve all issues that can be dealt with in the short to medium term and map a sustainable way of proactively setting the partnership for success.”

“Debswana has taken deliberate steps to exercise Social Responsibility and Empower the Basarwa communities through the implementation of community-based Socio-Economic Empowerment projects in Malatswai, Khwee, Makolwane, Setoto, and Metsiaela. These projects are expected to create lasting economic activity that will benefit the communities over the long term,” Kamona added.

She said it is their intention as per their Corporate Social Investment (CSI) Strategy to continue, as 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 uplift them beyond the life of the mines.

“Debswana has invested millions of Pula to support the communities in question since its existence in the target Region of operation as per its objective to improve the lives of communities and Make Life Brilliant,” said Kamona.

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