De Beers has refuted a statement that it was forced out of the Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve by an international pressure group.
In a triumphant statement it put out last week, Survival International, a London-based pressure group, says that its lobbying forced the mining giant to abandon its plans to mine diamonds in the CKGR.
“Survival International has a track record of successful campaigns targeting companies who operate on tribal peoples’ lands without their consent. Following lobbying by Survival, De Beers sold its concession to mine diamonds on the land of the Kalahari Bushmen in Botswana. In the 1990s, Mobil backtracked on plans to explore for oil in the Peruvian Amazon after a long Survival campaign,” the lobby group’s statement says.
For a long time Survival and De Beers tussled over the latter’s involvement in diamond exploration in Gope within the CKGR, where Basarwa communities have lived for centuries.
At the heart of the controversy was the removal of the Basarwa from the game reserve. SI claimed that the Basarwa were being relocated to make way for De Beers. Ultimately, the mining company sold its concession which, to Survival, marked the success of its long-running campaign.
On the other hand, the company says that pulling out of the Gope venture had absolutely nothing to do with the SI campaign. De Beers Botswana’s spokesperson, Charmaine Muir-Revaka, says that “the Gope deposit did not meet De Beers’ scale criteria necessary for development” and that pulling out of the venture was “another step in De Beers’ drive to focus on those assets that best position the company for future growth.”
De Beers, which produces and markets approximately 40 percent of the world’s supply of rough diamonds, sold its 50 percent stake in Gope Exploration Company (“Gope Exploration”) to Gem Diamonds Limited (“Gem”). The company’s joint venture partner in Gope Exploration, Falconbridge (Explorations) Botswana, has also sold its 50 percent stake in Gope Exploration to Gem. De Beers plans to sell its Cullinan mine and parts of the Kimberley operations in South Africa, as well as its 42.2 percent interest in the Fort ├á la Corne prospecting joint venture in Canada.
Gem Diamonds, which was established in 2005 and is listed on the main board of the London Stock Exchange under the code GEMD, has one producing mine, Letseng, in Lesotho as well as four development projects in the Democratic Republic of Congo and one in the Central African Republic. The company recently entered into co-operation agreement with Angolan partners that provides an entry to Angolan kimberlite properties and is also investigating other prospects in Angola, Botswana, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Mining construction at Gope is scheduled to start early next year and projections are that the mine will produce about one million carats a year and operate for 17 years.
De Beers would not say how damaging SI’s campaign was nor how much money it spent fighting back but the affair was a very messy one.
During the opening of the De Beers diamond store in London in 2002, activists altered the billboard outside the store by plastering the face of Somalian supermodel, Iman, with that of a bushman and replacing the De Beers slogan “A diamond is forever” with a new one that read, “The bushmen aren’t forever.”
Afterwards Iman quit as the public face of De Beers. However, the company’s explanation was that it decided not to renew Iman’s contract when it came to an end because it did not want to be limited by using one face in association with the brand.
Two years later, in an interview with the British magazine, Radio Times, Iman was quoted as saying, “It was clear that the Bushmen were being destroyedÔÇöyou take people from their element and you end up with AIDS, drugs and alcohol in the guise of advancement.”┬á┬á┬á