Sunday, October 17, 2021

Khama, De Beers on collision course

Minister of Environmental, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism, Tshekedi Khama and De Beers are headed to a big fight after the minister blocked the installation of full body scanners in Debswana mines.

Debswana which is a joint partnership between De Beers and the

Government of Botswana has already filed papers with the High Court notifying on its intention to challenge the rejection of its Environmental Assessment Study for the installation of Scannex at its mines. 

The Department of Environmental Affairs under Khama’s ministry has since responded to Debswana legal threats indicating that it would defend the lawsuit.

Asked last week why the DEA would not authorize the use of Scannex body scanners in Debswana mines, Minister Tshekedi Khama said, “At this point in time Debswana has failed to furnish me with proof that that those passing through this Scannex will not be affected.  I have asked them if they even have the insurance, should an employee sue if they encounter an illness from Scannex, they failed to give me an answer. It is not that I am refusing; all I want is prove that there is no adverse effect on staff. If they give me what I want I will give them the go ahead. We do not want to be blamed in future for something that we will not have answers to,” said Khama.

Debswana  had planned a close to P40 million installations of ten upright, full-body Scannex X-ray scanners at four of its diamond mines in Botswana.

Four scanners were to be installed at security checkpoints at Jwaneng, four at Orapa and one each at the Letlhakane and Damtshaa mines.

Debswana has already received approval from  

The Radiation Protection Inspectorate, but has been turned down by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA)

The Scannex body scanning technology has been developed by DebTech, the research and development arm of diamond giant De Beers

Specialist-Disease Control Dr Nkomo pointed out during a stakeholder’s consultative meeting that all should be done to protect people’s eyes from over exposure to radiation as they are very sensitive.

“My understanding is that radiation has no threshold; dealing with radiation is not straightforward given that there are causes that may exacerbate cases, eg genetic make-up of individuals.

Given that the project is new, it would be ideal for Debswana to initiate cohort study that will trace lives of employees and see what patterns will emerge; this will help even when people come back and make claims against Debswana in the future.

Public Health Specialist Morupisi said fears are understandable and Debswana needs to spend time educating people so that their fears are allayed. He added that anxiety can impact on performance at work.

“There will be need for comprehensive baseline survey prior to implementation of Scannex such that even family of individuals is known,” said Morupisi.

Head of Department of Physics from the University of Botswana, Dr King also indicated to Nthebolan during consultative meeting that, the machines be used according to the manufacture’s specifications; however they should not have any negative health effects on people. “Potential risks, limits and tolerance to exposure should be clearly explained to employees.”

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