Thursday, June 23rd,
Diamond Giant De Beers Opens
First U.S. Store Amid Protests Over Eviction of Bushmen in
Diamond giant De
Beers celebrated the opening of its first retail store in the
United States amid protests decrying the company's involvement in
the eviction of the San Bushmen in Botswana. We speak to the
Bushmen organization First People of the Kalahari, rights group
Survival International, feminist pioneer Gloria Steinem, and a De
Today De Beers diamonds opens its
first retail store in the United States in partnership with LV luxury goods.
The diamond giant was founded by Cecil Rhodes in 1888 and contributed to the
formation of the apartheid state in South Africa through its early segregation
policies. The company has operations all over the world and produces 40% of
the world supply of gem diamonds out of its mines in Africa.
The sale of diamonds frequently
fuels conflict in Angola, Sierra Leone, the Congo and elsewhere. So-called
conflict diamonds are regulated under the 2003 Kimberly Process, which
requires member countries and industry leaders to certify that shipments of
rough diamonds are not connected to any ongoing conflicts. Human rights
activists say the Kimberly Process is a first step but that working conditions
in diamonds mines are still very bad and that there are loopholes in the U.S.
Clean Diamond Trade Act.
De Beers says it is in compliance
with the Kimberly Process but now the corporation is coming under fire for
prospecting the ancestral homeland of the San Bushmen in Botswana. The
government readied the area for mining in 2002 by pushing out the San, who are
the oldest inhabitants of Southern Africa and live in the Central Kalahari
Game Reserve. Diamond mining is the mainstay of the Botswanan economy,
constituting nearly 80 percent of the country's exports. Botswana is hailed as
among the most stable and prosperous Sub-Saharan African nations and the
government credits improved infrastructure to diamond revenues. The national
diamond company Debswana quotes President Festus Mogae on its web site as
saying, "The partnership between De Beers and Botswana has been likened
to a marriage. I sometimes wonder whether a better analogy might not be that
of Siamese twins."
Despite the rosy outlook, about
half of the population remains below the poverty level in Botswana and human
rights groups condemn the treatment of the bushmen. Just this week there were
reports that government officials detained and beat three bushmen when they
were hunting. The Ecologist magazine quotes President Mogae explaining the
government decision to relocate the Bushmen. He said, "If the bushmen
want to survive they must change otherwise, like the Dodo, they will perish."
Following their eviction, the bushmen created an organization called First
People of the Kalahari and took the state to court arguing that the
government's acted illegally when it denied basic services to Bushmen who
would not leave the Reserve. Nearly 250 bushmen have filed affidavits saying
that the government is conducting diamond mining already in the Reserve and a
judge will hear their case on August second. The state attorney did not deny
the existence of diamond prospecting. He told the court that "If found,
such natural resources will be exploited, and we are not apologetic about the
future prospecting in any game reserve."
De Beers held a celebrity opening
party for its Fifth Avenue retail store last night. While supporters of the
San Bushmen picketed across the street, luminaries like actress Lindsay Lohan
were feted by the diamond giant.
spokesperson for Survival
International, which works with indigenous people to defend their
lives, protect their lands and determine their own futures.
feminist pioneer and founder of Ms.
member of First People of the Kalahari.
James Suzman, Professor
of Anthropology at Cambridge University, an expert on the bushman of
Botswana, and a consultant to De Beers on community affairs.
The diamond trade is central to
the operations of the Bostawan economy and the government will brook no
criticism of its economic juggernaut. Recently an Australian scholar at the
University of Botswana was deported after the president accused him of
communicating with Survival International president Stephen Corry and calling
Botswana's diamonds "blood diamonds."
AMY GOODMAN: While
supporters of the San Bushmen picketed across the street, luminaries like
actress Lindsay Lohan were feted by the diamond giant.
LINDSAY LOHAN: Marilyn
Monroe is my favorite, and she supported diamonds forever. So I'm supporting
them, like her.
AMY GOODMAN: We're joined
now in the studio by Miriam Ross with Survival International, a London-based
indigenous rights group that organized last night's protest. Also in the
studio, Gloria Steinem, feminist pioneer. She traveled to Botswana, joined the
picket line last night here in New York. On the line from Gaborone, Botswana,
we are joined by Jumanda Gakelebone, a member of First People of the Kalahari,
a Bushman. We are also joined by Dr. James Suzman, Professor of Anthropology
at Cambridge University, who is an expert on the Bushmen of Botswana and a
consultant to De Beers on community affairs. We’re going to begin today with
Jumanda Gakelebone, a member of the First People of Kalahari. Can you describe
your concerns right now with De Beers and the Botswana government?
JUMANDA GAKELEBONE: Yes.
Our concern with De Beers and with the diamonds in this country it was that,
you know, in the early ‘80s there was a conversion which was made in the
Ncoakhoe and the CKGR. And, by the way, a total of about 90 Bushmen staying
then, and we were then -- they were then kicked out in 2002 by the government
for relocation. And they are making as an argument that now it’s not because
of diamonds. It is because a couple of ministers who went inside the reserve
and are telling us that you have to go out from that place because it’s a [inaudible]
JUAN GONZALEZ: And how did
the government deal with your people when it decided to move you out?
JUMANDA GAKELEBONE: This
started in 19—early ‘80s. And the eviction itself started in 1997 and
AMY GOODMAN: We're talking
to Jumanda Gakelebone, a member of the First People of the Kalahari. Miriam
Ross, you're with the indigenous group, the group that works for indigenous
people to defend their lives, spokesperson for Survival International based in
Britain. Why did you get involved?
MIRIAM ROSS: Well, Survival
has been working with the bushmen for a long time, and the bushmen live across
southern Africa, and for hundreds of years, they have been facing slow
genocide. The Gana and Gwi Bushmen of Botswana are among the last Bushmen
anywhere to be living self-sufficiently by hunting and gathering on their own
ancestral land, or at least they were until several years ago when the
Botswana government kicked them out. De beers shamelessly prospecting for
diamonds has found diamonds on their land, and the Bushmen have been evicted.
They're falling apart as a people. They're turning to alcoholism in the
reserves. They're not allowed to hunt and gather. They're being tortured for
hunting. Their way of life is being totally destroyed. And if they're not
allowed to go back to their land soon, it's going to be the end of the Gana
and Gwi Bushmen as a peoples, as cohesive peoples. So Survival is asking De
Beers to allow the -- to pressurize the Botswana government into letting the
Bushmen go home. The Bushmen are also asking De Beers not to prospect on their
land and certainly not to mine on their land until they're allowed to go home.
AMY GOODMAN: We're going to
also get response from De Beers. We have to break, then we'll come back to
this discussion and find out why Gloria Steinem was out on the streets
yesterday protesting outside De Beers’s big national opening here in the
United States that took place in New York.
AMY GOODMAN: We talk about
the opening of De Beers in the United States and the protests that took place
outside the New York opening that was organized by Survival International. The
guests from Survival International, Gloria Steinem, a representative for De
Beers, and a Kalahari Bushman speaking to us from Botswana. I’m Amy Goodman
with Juan Gonzalez. Juan.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Yes. I'd
like to bring into the conversation, James Suzman. He’s a Professor of
Anthropology at Cambridge University and an expert on the Bushmen of Botswana
and a consultant to De Beers on community affairs. Welcome to Democracy Now!
JAMES SUZMAN: Good morning,
JUAN GONZALEZ: Could you
give us your response to some of the allegations that we have heard here from
both the Bushmen and the representatives of Survival International?
JAMES SUZMAN: Well, the
first thing I'd like to make clear, I guess, is -- as you have noted, I’m
from Cambridge University, so I’m happy to speak about De Beers, but I’m
not -- I’m not really a representative of them. As for the issues, the
issues that you have raised, as Jumanda noted, I mean, this relocation process
began sometime ago in the 1980s. It was in fact based on a policy paper that
was developed in 1985, and the relocations that took place in 1997, which were
when the main relocations actually occurred, and then later in 2002 were
effectively based on the gov—which were the result of the government, which
was determined to go through with implementing this particular policy. It was
not motivated by diamonds, and it was not motivated, I believe by any kind of
base profit motive on anybody's behalf. Certainly, De Beers were not subject
or involved in making this decision in any -- any more than it would be
acceptable for a foreign company or foreign company to be involved in making
social policy in the United States. I think what needs to be done is that this
issue needs to be put in its broader context.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Could you
tell us what did motivate the relocations then?
JAMES SUZMAN: The Botswana
government had a very – and this is -- this partially ties in with diamonds.
Botswana was in 1966, when it achieved its independence, it was one of the
least developed countries in, I believe it was the fourth -- the fourth most
underdeveloped country, according to the United Nations. And subsequent to
that, it's been through a remarkable process of development where you have
huge roads and hospitals and schools being built. Within the Botswana national
psyche there's a very strong sense of itself as a society, which has moved
from a state of relatively, I suppose, primitive penury, to coin a phrase, to
a state of relative -- relatively modern affluence. The relocation policy in
the central Kalahari is really an extension of this. It is an approach to
development. And it was intended, I believe, to be enacted in the best
interests of the Bushmen; however, I must add I do think the relocations have
been appallingly handled, and that I do not think that these were in the best
interests of the Bushmen at all.
AMY GOODMAN: Just to
clarify, Professor Suzman, now, you are paid by De Beers as a consultant?
JAMES SUZMAN: Yes, I am. I
AMY GOODMAN: Jumanda
Gakelebone, your response to Professor Suzman.
JUMANDA GAKELEBONE: Yeah. [inaudible]
is still [inaudible] in saying that it was nothing with the diamonds. But to
tell the truth, it is the diamonds. He is right, there is nothing [inaudible]
in some part of the CKGR, where De Beers still holds the actuary -- I mean, it
holds in the license the [inaudible] they have and to do whatever they want.
And they renew it each and every year, which shows us as Bushmen that there is
something under the ground there, which De Beers is interested in. And if De
Beers did know that there’s nothing there, then talk with the government of
Botswana and let us stay there. And James Suzman, I don’t know how he counts.
[inaudible] with the Bushmen. [inaudible] We are people. We know, we hear what
we are told and we can understand. We were told, and we did understand what
was said and see what has happened.
AMY GOODMAN: Miriam Ross.
MIRIAM ROSS: Can I just
point out in addition to what Jumanda said, that government ministers openly
admitted before the international campaign on this issue that the Bushmen were
going to be moved or being moved to make way for diamonds. I'd also like to
point out that if you visit the resettlement camps, it's impossible to
conclude that this was being done to help the Bushmen, for their benefit, in
any way. You know, before they were moved, they were living self-sufficiently.
When I visited them, people said to me again and again, when we lived in the
reserve, we knew exactly what we had to do when we got up in the morning. We
knew where to find food. They lived close to the graves of their ancestors,
which are very important to them. Now in the resettlement camps, they have
nothing to do all day. You know, they're bored, depressed, despairing.
Alcoholism is an increasing problem, and so is AIDS.
JUAN GONZALEZ: We're joined
also by Gloria Steinem, who has a long history of involvement in progressive
causes. What drew you to this issue, and why did you get involved?
GLORIA STEINEM: It was a
long journey, actually, of about 12 years that ended up with me in my
neighborhood picketing because it took my belated understanding that the --
that our own indigenous cultures were in many ways the source of the
suffragist movement, the vision of a egalitarian, communitarian society. The
understanding of what we are robbed of worldwide when these cultures are
exterminated began here, took me on a journey to Botswana, into the Kalahari
with Rebecca Adamson, a Cherokee leader in this country, who was asked to
consult on indigenous land rights.
These are cultures of enormous
sophistication and importance to everyone in the world. And they are being
exterminated. This is, in fact, cultural genocide, as these scholars of
cultural genocide have documented in a case that's being brought before the
International Criminal Court.
If Botswana -- if De Beers is a
good citizen of Botswana, they would certainly call for the enforcement of the
law. Not only do they have the right of 50,000 years of continuous
inhabitants, but also in the Botswana constitution, it makes very clear that
this is their land. Now, on top of that, what makes this especially
surrealistic, is that if they got their land back, they do not object to De
Beers having access to the mineral rights. They're not claiming the mineral
rights. So, this, you know, is not just about diamonds, it is about a profound,
deep racism, a leftover colonial way of thinking, a drastic undervaluing of
one of the most valuable cultures in this world. But it's very, very clear,
that this is their land, and they must be returned to their land.
AMY GOODMAN: Well,
Professor Suzman, your response, of Cambridge University, De Beers consultant.
JAMES SUZMAN: Ms. Steinem
actually hit the nail on the head there when she pointed out the fact that
this is not an issue about mineral rights, and this has never been an issue
about mineral rights. In fact, the linking of this campaign to mineral rights
issues really strikes me as some kind of a trick or smoke -- smoke and mirrors
to in a sense try and develop greater support within constituencies in Europe
and America, rather than some kind of effective dialogue on the ground. Now, I
should emphasize the fact that --
AMY GOODMAN: Gloria Steinem,
you wanted to respond?
GLORIA STEINEM: Well, I
just want to say that I was not saying it was not about mineral rights, it's
also about racism and other deep, deep misunderstandings of the value of this
culture. But the fact is that De Beers is supporting the genocide of this
culture. De Beers is allowing itself to be a partner in this genocide, and De
Beers is the only way that we have right now of pressuring to make -- to make
change. It is also mineral rights. And I certainly feel completely clear in
calling for a boycott of every diamond, since it's very difficult to know what
is produced by De Beers and what is not, not to mention that it's a completely
artificial market in which the supply is limited, the demand is falsely
created. You know, De Beers is complicit here, and it is also about mineral
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, the
diamond trade is central to the operations of the Botswana economy, and the
government will brook no criticism of its economic juggernaut. Recently an
Australian scholar at the University of Botswana was deported after the
President accused him of communicating with Survival International president,
Stephen Corry, and calling Botswana's diamonds, (quote) “blood diamonds.”
AMY GOODMAN: Kenneth Good
is a Professor of Political Science, specializing in democratization. He has
written critically on the succession-based presidency in Botswana and the
dependence of the Botswanan economy on the diamond trade. He also joins us now
on the line from London. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Professor Kenneth Good.
KENNETH GOOD: Hello. Thank
you very much.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to
have you with us. Can you talk about what has happened to you and your work in
KENNETH GOOD: Well, it has
been shattered quite substantially beginning in February, and then going on
remorselessly until the 31st of May, when I was literally bundled out of the
country on a flight to Joberg. That has meant that my research has ended. I
hope temporarily. I'm appealing against what has happened, but I don't know
that outcome yet. It's a good -- pretty good example of the authoritarianism
that’s often blatant but always present in the Botswana political system.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And your
opinion on the discussion we have been having here on whether this -- whether
De Beers is being brought unfairly into this issue of a long-standing policy
of relocation by the Botswana government?
KENNETH GOOD: Well, I don't
think it's unfairly being brought in, but I would emphasize, along with two of
your other speakers, at least, that diamonds is a factor, but a big one, in a
multifaceted issue. As it has been said, the removals of San from the CKGR
were based on racism, on an arrogance in the ruling elite, that they know best
for everybody, in particular, for the despised San, and a belief that this is
-- well, a knowledge that removing San is nothing particularly new in the
Botswana context. It's gone on for decades, and indeed for centuries.
AMY GOODMAN: What is it you
said that the Botswanan President objected so much to that you were deported,
and what about this communication you are having with Survival International
that seemed to be grounds for your deportation?
KENNETH GOOD: There's a
little bit of confusion from the governmental side about why they acted
against me. There have been suggestions that it was because of some research
in the production of the paper for a forthcoming book on presidential
succession in Africa, where I and a colleague, Dr. Ian Taylor, were doing the
Botswana chapter. President Mohai is in his second and constitutionally last
term of office, and he would be under the constitution, at the moment,
automatically succeeded by his present deputy, General Ian Khama. And a lot of
people in Botswana are unhappy about that. They don't want Ian Khama to become
president. And, in particular, they don't want him to become president without
any resort to the people and any vote on the matter. Now, that's part of it.
The other part would be the issue of the removals of San from the CKGR, on
which I have also written and spoken and debated with government officials
over. Then, suddenly, they used -- the mail fist comes out with the velvet
diamond glove, and whoomp, I’m out.
AMY GOODMAN: Gloria Steinem,
are you calling for people not to buy De Beers diamonds in this country. I
mean, we started with Lindsay Lohan, who went down the red carpet last night,
and she said Marilyn Monroe was always her idol, and diamonds are a girl’s
GLORIA STEINEM: It's
wonderful that you started with that song actually, because I think that the
diamond industry may have been responsible for the movie. They were the
pioneers of product placement, since colored stones were coveted in this
country, not diamonds at all. And they created a false market by putting them
free into movies. There's a wonderful book by Ed Epstein about exactly the
creation of this market.
AMY GOODMAN: And you wrote
a book about Marilyn Monroe.
GLORIA STEINEM: Yes, yes,
and it’s one tragedy layered upon another tragedy, I fear. And it's time to
end it and to realize that the San Ncoakhoe, the so-called Bush people, are in
fact the real diamonds here. They are the precious culture. They are what we
need in this world. They have such knowledge of pharmacology, of healing, of
conflict resolution techniques, of how to live, of how to raise children, of
how to -- these are the things that are now being painfully reconstructed in
this country after the annihilation of our own first peoples and trying to
rebuild this. This is present there. It is continuous still. It is now in its
most fragile state. And De Beers and all of us have a enlightened
self-interest, a long term self-interest in standing up and saying these
cultures must not be annihilated. We need them.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Miriam Ross,
I’d like to ask you, the perspective that the relocation started long before
the agreement of the government to enter into partnership with De Beers, but
you have been able to document that as early as the 1980s. There was a initial
discovery of diamonds in Gope, and that De Beers entered into a joint venture
back then with Falconbridge. Can you talk about that history since the diamond
industry is so secretive as it is, and so it's so hard to get information on
the development of sites and prospects for companies like De Beers, which is a
private company at this point, so therefore, it doesn't have to report to
MIRIAM ROSS: Yes. Well, De
Beers found diamonds in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, on the Bushman's
land, in the early 1980s. It was in 1986 or 1985, mid-1980s that the
government made the decision public that they were going to evict Bushmen. The
final surveys were completed in 1996, and it was one year -- less than one
year later in 1997 that the first wave of evictions began. In their
environmental impact assessment that De Beers commissioned themselves, which
was published in 1999, it was stated that it was very likely that further
exploration activity for diamonds would take place in the reserve. And in
2000, Botswana government ministers were saying “We’re going to move the
Bushmen because of diamond mining.” When the campaign started focusing on
diamonds, then the denials began.
AMY GOODMAN: And the
argument of the Botswanan government that the diamonds that they profit from
go to dealing with the very serious issue of HIV/AIDS in Botswana, go to
dealing with the infrastructure and saying that these are not blood diamonds,
these are not conflict diamonds. Gloria Steinem?
GLORIA STEINEM: Well, whose
HIV/AIDS? I mean, the resettlement camps are atrocious, are breeding grounds
of disease, of AIDS, of tuberculosis, of starvation, of malnutrition. I mean,
you know, it's -- it's ridiculous to say, it seems to me, that you create the
problem that you then make profit to solve somewhere else? They're still
sacrificing a whole group of people there, and something that is a culture
that is an international global treasure.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we're
going to leave it there. There's a lot we have to discuss. If, Professor
Suzman, you'd like to give one last comment as De Beers's consultant.
JAMES SUZMAN: Actually,
I’d like to have given quite a lot of comments, because it seems there's
been much said in error in the program. What I would like to draw people's
attention to is the fact that there are 100,000 people San people living in
South Africa. And this 100,000 people are unquestionable the most marginalized
of any ethnic group in the region. And what is needed is a genuine dialogue
with local governments, and this is not just in Botswana, but also Namibia, a
genuine dialogue between local organizations and governments on this issue and
something which leads to some kind of productive resolution.
I think it is rather trite and
fanciful to start talking about this issue as an issue of maintaining and
saving a disappearing culture, which is what seems to appeal to Western
audiences. I have been working for 15 years on rights issues with the San, and
I was a participant in the formation of First People of the Kalahari many
years ago. What is needed in the region is to deal desperately and urgently
with the issues which are confronting the San today. And these issues are to
do with securing secure livelihoods and dealing with issues such as HIV and
AIDS, and it is not to do necessarily with the maintenance of a hunting and
gathering culture. It is to do with basically giving people the opportunity to
live their lives in a productive and open sense, and to continue their
cultures in the way that they would like to do it. It is not -- it is not, and
I’d like to make sure that this is well understood -- it is not a question
AMY GOODMAN: It is not a
question of --
JAMES SUZMAN: It's not a
question of people seeking to damage San interests in the pursuit of wealth. I
should add that De Beers has actually entered the development partnership with
the largest San organization in Botswana representing as many as 25,000 San.
And this is the Kuru Family of Organizations, and it has likewise received the
positive response from the working group of indigenous minorities in southern
AMY GOODMAN: Well, on that
note, we have to wrap it up as we move on with our next segment. It's the
beginning of a discussion. And I thank you all for being with us: Dr. James
Suzman, Professor of Anthropology at Cambridge University, a De Beers's
consultant, speaking to us from Britain; Jumanda Gakelebone, who is a First
People of the Kalahari, speaking to us from Botswana; Professor Kenneth Good,
who was just deported from Botswana, was a professor at University of
Botswana; Miriam Ross in our studio here in New York, of Survival
International; and Gloria Steinem, who was part of the protest in New York
outside the opening of the first De Beers store in the United States here in
New York. She has traveled to Botswana.