Botswana Mining Nothing, Displacing No One?

By Sharife, Khadija | New African, August-September 2008 | Go to article overview

Botswana Mining Nothing, Displacing No One?

Sharife, Khadija, New African

A diamond company may soon start mining in the disputed Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) in Botswana. The Botswana Environmental Department "has indicated that they do not objective to mining within the CKGR in principle," says a representative of Gemstone which bought the concession from De Beers recently, but don't tell that to the Botswana government. Khadija Sharife reports.


The term Gope, an appellation describing a region located within Botswana's Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR), quite simply means nothing. Botswana is the world's largest diamond producer, and the CKGR lies smack dab in the middle of one of its richest diamond fields.

Since the early 1970s, this precious gem-stone known as "Adamas" or "Invincible" by the Ancient Greeks, has transformed Botswana-a country of less than two million people. Diamonds comprise over 80% of the economy, 50% of government revenue, and 35% of the gross domestic product (GDP).

Although Botswana holds 23% of the world's diamond market with a cumulative total value of $3.2bn annually, one third of the population lives in poverty.

The country has an official unemployment rate of 24.5% while unofficial estimates place it at 40%. This, despite the fact that the country has one of the world's highest economic growth rates, with a per capita GDP of $11,000 in 2006. The bulk of Botswana's 288,000 strong labour force is concentrated in the mining industry.

Southern Africa overall contributes about 43% of the world's uncut and unpolished diamonds, directly implying that little or no benefit is accrued by the continent when it comes to finishing the product--as yet. In 2003, 92% of industrial diamonds were cut in India; other finishing hubs include Tel Aviv, New York and Amsterdam.

The Belgian city of Antwerp is known as the "diamond capital" of the world, even though Belgium produces no diamonds. Over 80% of gem diamonds are cut and finished in Antwerp, while 84% of finished diamonds are sold in New York, USA.

The diamond trade is a global cartel controlled by a few key players, the most prominent of which is De Beers, founded in 1888 by Cecil Rhodes. Based in Johannesburg, South Africa, De Beers has a presence in over 25 countries and is the primary handlerof more than 45% of the world's diamond trade. In 2005, its revenues exceeded $6.5 billion. De Beers is active in all aspects of the diamond industry, from exploration to mining, trading and finishing, sales and marketing. Its mining activities are largely concentrated in four countries: South Africa, Botswana, Tanzania and Namibia.


Botswana of course is the prize market-mining via Debswana, a joint venture between De Beers and the Botswana government, which was founded in 1969 after the discovery of the Orapa Diamond Mine. Orapa-meaning "the resting place of lions"-is the most lucrative diamond mine on earth. Debswana alone produces 30% of the world's diamonds from just four mines: Letlhakane, Jwaneng, Damtshaa and Orapa. But another has since been found-Gope.

According to Angela Parr of Gem Diamonds: "The settlement of Gope was established as a result of diamond prospecting as opposed to having been closed down because of diamond mining. It was the availability of water at the prospecting site that had attracted people there and led to the establishment of a settlement."

Unfortunately, at no point did the high court enquire as to the name of the "Gope" region by the Basarwa. The Basarwa people who were featured in the 1980s' film, The Gods Must Be Crazy, are often called Bushmen, a derogatory term suffused with racist undertones, portraying the history of their culture, peoples and traditions as primitive and valueless in the modern "civilised", industrialised and high-tech world.

The Basarwa refer to themselves as "Xu Wasi" or "Real People", identical in definition to the terminology ascribed by native Indians of South and North America who call themselves the "First Peoples". …

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