Four years into the ten year secret agreement between De Beers Group and the government of Botswana the details of which could not be shared with the legislature at the time, it has now emerged that even the Botswana Diamond Workers Union (BDWU) was told to mind their business, as “…You have no entitlement or right to be consulted when negotiating such agreements since they are commercial in nature.”
Office of the President responded to a protest by the Union through a letter dated 28 December, 2011, authored and signed by Sipho Madisa, then Senior Private Secretary to President Ian Khama telling them they see nothing wrong in the process that was followed to negotiate the sales agreement.
The gist of the union’s protest was that workers were excluded from the crafting of the agreement despite the fact that they play a vital role in the extraction, manufacturing, and marketing of Botswana’s gem stones.
Workers were worried that their interests and concerns relating to the environment suitable for diamond production were not taken on board in the overall strategy of the proposed relocation of Diamond Trading Company International from London to Gaborone.
The workers’ protest letter dated 11th October 2011, tried to establish if the agreement considered the working conditions and health or safety hazards peculiar to the diamond industry, and if there was any intent on the part of the regulatory authority to put in place special measures to protect workers from multinational companies. The response was a flat NO.
“We are concerned that both the government and its partner have committed an error by denying workers representative organisations an opportunity to articulate workers interests views during the negotiation process of the Agreement,” stated the then General Secretary Jacob Mpasopi.
The union made reference to past instances where multinational companies in the diamond industry violated workers rights with impunity.
The Office of the President insisted that, “…as regards your request to negotiate an agreement with government and De Beers, this is not plausible because the issues raised are between the employer and the employee.” The letter from OP further urged the Union to continue dialogue with their employer to address the issues cited and only refer the matter to government for intervention as already provided for by the Employment Act Cap 47:9
The union also made a proposal on how government, De Beers and the workers Union can collectively dialogue on how to address the economic situation of communities living in areas around the mines where diamonds are extracted.
“We have observed an unpleasant scenario whereby these communities are left in dire poverty whilst the revenues from these mines are enjoyed by the elite classes in urban areas,” stated the union adding that those communities have been denied the right to use the land allocated for mining for an alternative means of earning a livelihood. The Office of the president however argued that “Debswana is already involved in social programs in areas near the mines and across the country, and you are at liberty to engage them if you believe the current programs are inadequate.”
The then Minister of Minerals Energy and Water Affairs, Ponatshego Kedikilwe at the height of the debate on the controversial agreement told an enquiring Member of Parliament that it would be “improper for you to expect me to divulge the details of such a sensitive agreement.”