LONDON — De Beers Group and the De Beers LV joint venture have repeated their denials of claims by Survival International that diamond mining is related to the relocation of Bushmen in Botswana.
This story first appeared in the November 6, 2002 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
As reported last week, Survival International, a nongovernmental organization, or NGO, plastered an image of a Kalahari Bushwoman over that of Iman, who is the face of the new De Beers LV jewelry company. Below it, a phrase read: “The Bushmen Aren’t Forever.” Incorrectly, the protest poster targeted the wrong company — De Beers LV has no diamond mining operations of its own. It is the retail joint venture between De Beers Group and LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton that is creating a global retail jewelry chain and the De Beers jewelry collection.
A spokesman for London-based Survival International said De Beers “has been caught in a storm of controversy” over the eviction, earlier this year, of the last remaining Gana and Gwi Bushmen from their homes in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. The group maintains that De Beers not only holds the concession on a large diamond deposit in the reserve, but that it is prospecting for more. They say diamond mining is behind the Botswana government’s drive to relocate the natives of the reserve.
However, both the De Beers Group and independent observers say that diamond mining and relocation of the Bushmen have nothing to do with one another. The Botswana government, according to De Beers, also has denied that the issues are related.
“The Botswana government already possesses the rights to mine the land, so there is no need to force the people off it,” said Richard Howitt, a British member of the European Parliament and a human rights activist. “[Instead], it feels that they are an untidy nuisance who don’t fit in with the norms of society,” he told London’s Sunday Telegraph in September. “I grew up hearing about the Bushmen of the Kalahari. This year could be the end of the story.”
Botswana is the world’s largest diamond producer, but it has only three active mines, all of which are outside the Kalahari reserve, De Beers Group said. De Beers Group, which joined forces with LVMH last year to create their retail joint venture, said last week it had no presence in the Kalahari reserve and denied that diamond mining forced the Bushmen from their homes.
Alain Lorenzo, chief executive of De Beers LV, said the De Beers Group began doing exploration work in the Kalahari reserve in 1985, but gave up all exploration permits because it didn’t find anything with the exception of one small mine in Gope.
“And that one was sub-economical to mine. The site is now empty. As a result, all exploration work has been suspended in the Kalahari reserve,” he said. Lorenzo said the Gope mining license covered a 17.5-square-mile area, while the entire Kalahari reserve spans 21,000 square miles.
De Beers has two small diamond mines in Botswana that are not inside the reserve. “In addition, local NGOs have found no evidence that diamonds are the cause of relocation of the Bushmen,” he said.