Diamonds of Death
Monopolists Seek to Plunder, Not Share
This report comes from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio has inadvertently been thrust to the forefront of the San people's fight to return to their ancestral lands after the Botswana government removed them.
According to Survival International, an advocacy group supporting the San's opposition of their eviction from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR), San leader Roy Sesana told DiCaprio in a letter: "Friends have told us that you are in a film, The Blood Diamond, which shows how badly diamonds can hurt. We know this - when we were chased off our land, officials told us it was because of the diamond finds."
The Blood Diamond is due for release in December, which is likely to coincide with a high court judgement on the San's claim to continue living in the reserve - about the size of Switzerland - and could embroil the high-profile actor in Botswana's longest running and most expensive legal case to date.
DiCaprio plays a South African mercenary pursuing a rare pink diamond through Sierra Leone's diamond-fuelled civil war in the film directed by Ed Zwick. About 75,000 people were killed in the West African conflict, which ended in 2002.
In a full-page advertisement in Variety, Hollywood's influential entertainment industry magazine, representatives of the Gana and Gwi groups of the San appealed for help from DiCaprio, star of the biggest box-office success in film history, Titanic.
"Please help us, Sir. We know you are a famous and respected man, and that if you speak up for us many people will listen. We just want to go home, and hunt and gather and live in peace like we have always done," reads part of the advertisement.
The campaign by the San, also known as Bushmen, to return to the reserve has enlisted the help of celebrities in the past. Somali supermodel Iman parted ways with De Beers, the world's biggest diamond company, over the issue, and actress Julie Christie said, "the Bushman evictions in Botswana are a clear demonstration that local people are still suffering because of these stones."
The film's release date during the lucrative Christmas shopping season in Europe and the United States has put the diamond industry on the defensive over the expected negative publicity, which some commentators say could make diamonds the next fashion turn-off after fur.
Lynette Hori, a London-based spokeswoman for De Beers, said the company was lending its "communications expertise" to the World Diamond Council, a body representing the industry, as "we believe this is a small amount to pay to maintain consumer's confidence in diamonds and the diamond industry, so that they continue to believe in all that diamonds stand for and in turn continue to contribute to the real benefits that diamonds do, especially in Africa."
Although De Beers declined to disclose the cost of the advertising campaign, reports in Britain's Guardian newspaper put the figure at about US$15 million.
Survival International director Stephen Corry said that the San faced extinction "not from war, but from being robbed of their land. It's horrific that this can happen in the 21st century. For this reason people increasingly view De Beers's Botswanan gems as conflict diamonds."
Hori said it was "outrageous" to suggest diamonds of Botswanan origin were conflict diamonds, the term used to describe diamonds which are illegally traded to fund conflicts.
The United Nations defines conflict diamonds as those "that originate from areas controlled by forces or factions opposed to legitimate and internationally recognised governments, and are used to fund military action in opposition to those governments, or in contravention of the decisions of the Security Council."
The diamond trade contributes about US$8.4 billion annually to Africa and, since the advent of the Kimberley Process, which requires rough diamonds to be transported across international borders in tamper-proof containers with unique serial numbers, 99.8 percent of diamonds traded are certified as being sourced from conflict-free areas.
Botswana's government spokesman, Jeff Ramsay, told IRIN that after 15 years of negotiations about 2,500 San had "voluntarily" moved from the reserve, and diamonds had never been part of the equation in their relocation.
Although Ramsay would not comment on attempts to involve DiCaprio in the land dispute, he said it was just another case of "third-world countries being blackmailed by first-world NGOs [nongovernmental organisations]."
There are diamond deposits in the reserve at Gope, in the east of the reserve, but these were not commercially viable and even if they were, under the country's constitution all mineral deposits belonged to the state "for the benefit of all [its] people," Ramsay said.
Botswana produces diamonds worth US$3.2 billion annually, accounting for 76 percent of export revenue, 45 percent of government revenue and 33 percent of gross domestic product.
The CKGR was created in the last days of British colonial rule before Botswana's independence in 1966, and guaranteed the San continued occupation of land their ancestors had lived on for thousands of years.
A panel of three judges in the high court at Lobatse, about 70km south of Botswana's capital, Gaberone, began deliberations earlier this month on the San's claim against their eviction from the reserve.
A judgement is expected on 13 December, and The Blood Diamond is scheduled for worldwide release two days later.
Africa's Natural Resource Wealth Should Benefit Africans
Plunderers Should Pay Market Value or Stop Plundering
Conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo
Email this article Sign up for free Progress Report updates via email
What are your views? Share your opinions with The Progress Report:
Page One Page Two Archive Discussion Room Letters What's Geoism?