Bushmen in U.S. to Complain About Diamond Mining

August 30, 2004

Bushmen in U.S. to Complain About Diamond Mining

A small group of the Bushmen hope Hollywood star power and a well-publicized month-long journey across the U.S. can help them gain the upper hand in a real-life dispute with the government of Botswana. The Bushmen say they were pushed out of their homeland in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve by the government, in preparation for government-sponsored diamond mining. In May, however, the Botswana government, local human rights groups who investigated the matter, and De Beers denied that the Bushmen were taken off their ancestral lands for mining reasons. De Beers has a 50/50 agreement with Botswana to mine its diamonds.

"I'm angry," said Bushmen leader Roy Sesana, arriving in Los Angeles Aug. 26. "So maybe some Americans' support here can wipe up my tears," he told the Associated Press. Sesana founded the group First People of the Kalahari in the early 1990s after signals from the government that Bushmen would be forced to move from the reserve. Minnie Driver and actors andmusicians including Jackson Browne were expected at a Beverly Hills fundraiser Aug. 27. A "diamond drop" was to accept jewelry from the celebrities as a donation to a legal fund protecting Bushmen lands.

The road trip to follow takes the four Bushmen, traveling with supporters, from Los Angeles to New Mexico to Washington, DC. They've scheduled meetings with American Indian tribal leaders, fox hunters and federal lawmakers, ending the trip Sept. 27 at the United Nations in New York City. The contingent is being trailed by a National Geographic photographer and public radio producers, says organizer Rupert Isaacson, a journalist who wrote a book about the Kalahari Bushmen.

The Bushmen, also known as the San people, live in a hunter/gatherer society dating back thousands of years. The Central Kalahari Game Reserve, set up by British colonial authorities in 1961, continued to be used by Bushmen after Botswana gained independence in 1966. But in 2002, the Bushmen say about 1,800 were forcibly evicted from the reserve. Most now live in makeshift camps outside the reserve, though about 100 refused to leave and continue to live off the land. Botswana's government says on its Web site that while many Bushmen wanted to settle down and become farmers, agricultural use of the land is not compatible with preserving wildlife on the reserve. The government also says the Bushmen must be integrated into mainstream society if they are to benefit from education, medical services and job opportunities.

Hearings on the Bushmen's claim to the reserve, which is about the size of Switzerland, began in July before Botswana's high court but were postponed after the Bushmen ran out of money for attorneys. About $100,000 was raised for the U.S. trip and organizers are hoping to save some of that money and pick up new donations along the way, says Isaacson. Court hearings are set to resume in November.

Botswana, a nation of 1.5 million people, has been viewed as a model democracy for other African nations and has been ranked among the least corrupt countries on the continent in a survey by the World Economic Forum. Since diamonds were discovered in the country in 1967, Botswana has prospered. Diamonds account for half of the government revenues and three-fourths of all export earnings. Despite denials by the government and De Beers, Bushmen leader Sesana says he has seen mineral surveyors on the reserve, and that if diamond mines are planned for the reserve, the Bushmen should get a share of the profits.

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