Beers battles with Survival
giant is under fire over the forcible relocation of the Bushmen of the
Kalahari. Edward Simpkins examines the complaints and the company's reaction
The Bushmen of the
Kalahari have a new and unexpected protector - Lily Cole, the striking
supermodel who is the face of De Beers, the diamond giant.
International, the pressure group that campaigns on behalf of tribal peoples,
says that Cole is refusing to work again for the huge former monopolist,
having been alerted to allegations that the Bushmen are being evicted from
their homes in Botswana to make way for diamond mines.
It says that Cole is
only the latest model to take a stand after being apprised of the forcible
relocation of around 2,000 Bushmen - also known as the San or Basarwa - from
land not far from where the world's finest diamonds are mined.
Iman famously quit as the face of De Beers after meeting with Survival
International," it says. And it claims that the British model, Erin
O'Connor, had distanced herself from De Beers and that Julie Christie, the
actress, is backing a campaign to boycott De Beers.
vociferous campaign was also in evidence with a protest two weeks ago at the
launch of a diamonds exhibition at the Natural History Museum in London. And
earlier in the summer, the group organised a picket at the opening of De
Beers' new shop on Fifth Avenue in New York.
So just how much
damage can the campaign do? And is it fair to link De Beers with the
De Beers, and others
in the jewellery industry, spend vast sums marketing diamonds as symbols of
love, purity and constancy. "Diamonds are an eternal celebration of
life's perfect moments," De Beers' web site coos.
But that image of
unadulterated beauty has been challenged. A campaign to stamp out the trade in
so called "blood diamonds", stones mined by militias linked to
several murderous civil wars in Africa, was deeply embarrassing for the
It led to the
adoption of a worldwide certification system so there would be an audit trail
back to specific mines to prove that any particular diamond did not have a
The reform was huge
and costly for the industry. And it was a factor in convincing De Beers to
turn its century-old business model on its head.
But now, just as De
Beers is putting its years as a monopoly supplier behind it and settling into
its new role as a leader in the luxury goods industry, up pops Survival with
"It is so
frustrating as we are trying to prove a negative," says Rory More
O'Ferrall, the director of external affairs at De Beers. "We are simply
not involved in the relocation of the Bushmen and we have had assurances from
the government of Botswana that it has absolutely nothing to do with
prospecting for or mining diamonds in the Kalahari."
He says that
Survival's campaign to get the Botswana government to reverse its policy of
resettling the Bushmen is being dishonest and opportunistic in seizing on
diamonds as the cause of evictions.
argues that De Beers, as the mining partner of the Botswana government, is a
soft target for Survival, providing the campaigning group with a ready means
of applying pressure on the African administration.
On the other hand,
diamonds and De Beers are very important to Botswana. Debswana, a 50:50 joint
venture between De Beers and the government, generates nearly 70 per cent of
Botswana's foreign earnings, around a third of the country's gross domestic
product and half of the receipts of the country's treasury.
Debswana is also
hugely important for De Beers. Last year Debswana produced 31.1m carats,
around 66 per cent of the company's output. Last year De Beers sold rough
diamonds worth $5.7bn but the Botswana stones are thought to have contributed
more than 66 per cent because of their high value.
It is also the
second largest employer after the government. And the income it produces pays
for a health and education system that is the envy of other developing African
In fact, Survival
argues that the relationship is so close that when it wants to hit the
Botswana government it is justified in bashing De Beers. And it claims that
reversing the forcible settlement of the Bushmen justifies the tactics.
" The people
that have been most damaged are the Bushmen," says Stephen Corry, the
director of Survival International. "I'm not too worried about whether De
Beers is damaged as well."
He insists that
diamonds lie behind the evictions. "We think it is because there is an
acknowledged diamond find in the central Kalahari. It has been test-drilled by
De Beers and we say that the root cause of the evictions is the diamonds."
government tells a different story. In a section of its website dealing with
the issue it says: "There has never been any forceful relocation of
Basarwa from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR). There is no mining nor
any plans for future mining anywhere inside the CKGR. The intention of the
Government is to bring the standards of living of Basarwa up to the level
obtaining in the rest of the country."
Corry is scornful.
"The idea that this is going to lead the Bushmen into Botswana's idea of
modernity is nonsense," he says. "They are being brought into
unemployment, social dislocation, alcoholism, prostitution, HIV and Aids. The
idea that this is for the Bushmen's benefit is laughable."
He says that De
Beers could steer the Botswana government away from the policy, and adds:
"We are not saying that De Beers itself has carried out any evictions -
of course it hasn't," Corry says. "But if De Beers seriously thought
these evictions must be reversed that would put great pressure on the
For its part, De
Beers says that it has made its views known but that it cannot dictate social
policy to a democratically elected government. "Yes, we are the partner
of the government but that does not give us the right or the ability to talk
to them about how they should manage something like this," More O'Farrell
And he says that the
company has been doing what it can to alert the Botswana government to the
sensitivity of this issue. "That is not to say that behind the scenes
Nicky Oppenheimer [the chairman of De Beers] has not had several conversations
with Festus Mogae [the president of Botswana]," he adds. "We are
constantly trying to use the good offices of the company to do something but
we can't really trumpet that."
As it happens, other
non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the region do not seem to be 100 per
cent behind Survival.
The Working Group of
Indigenous Minorities of Southern Africa (Wimsa) put out a statement two weeks
ago welcoming Survival's assistance in raising awareness of human rights
abuses. But it added: "We object strongly to the fact that Survival
International seeks to give the impression that they speak on behalf of all
the Kalahari Bushmen. SI has not been mandated to speak on behalf of all the
It says that the
Bushmen do not want to close the door to negotiations with the Botswana
government and adds that some would support diamond mining in the Kalahari if
their rights were respected. It also questions the premise that diamonds are
the reason for the removal of the Bushmen.
Wimsa adds: "We
appeal to SI to immediately cease their campaign on our behalf until such time
as they are prepared to co-ordinate with our representative organisations."
An independent study
carried out on behalf of the International Finance Corporation, part of the
World Bank, reported in June that it found no evidence that the relocations
were caused by diamond prospecting. It quoted another local NGO as saying:
"It should be highlighted that the relocations of San people is done
based on discrimination and oppression of the San race and not necessarily
Which may be some
comfort to De Beers, but is none at all for the Bushmen.