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Govt approves mining in CKGR

Staff Writer
* Survival International condemns turn of events
* Mining to commence in 2013

Diamond mining within the Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve (CKGR) is set to commence in earnest after the government granted diamond company Gem Diamonds Limited a permit to proceed on Tuesday.

This has attracted the ire of Survival International after the company claimed to be working "closely" with Basarwa, saying the unsupported assertion would be "laughable, if it weren't tragic".  Gem Diamonds announced on its website yesterday that the permit, which spans 25 years, will pave the way for the first phase of mining.

Says a press release from the company: "The mining licence has been granted for a period of 25 years during which time the company envisages a phased approach to the construction of the mine, with an underground mine planned to improve the company's knowledge of the ore body, diamond valuation and metallurgical characteristics.

"After an initial period of mining, the production capacity will be scaled up to a higher steady state." The press release further quotes the company's CEO Clifford Elphick: "This is the first step towards the development of the Gope deposit into a viable producing mine and is in line with Gem Diamonds' stated strategy of providing a platform for sustainable growth for the Group through the development of its existing assets."

Elphick says actual mining will commence in 2013 in time for envisaged improvement in the diamond market.
"Integral to the mining licence approval process was the approval of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) by the Government of Botswana which was obtained in late 2008," he continues. "The company remains committed to continue working closely with the project's affected communities and other interested parties."

However, the Director of

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Survival International (SI), Stephen Corry, has condemned the company's reference to the involvement of Basarwa in the development of the EIA. "Gem Diamonds' claim that the Bushmen have given their consent to the mine would be laughable, if it weren't tragic," Corry says.  "How can people who are denied water to force them out of the reserve possibly be in a position to give their free and informed consent?

Particularly when no-one apart from Gem Diamonds and the government has told them what impact this massive mine might have on them?" Mining in the CKGR has been a contentious matter between the government and mining companies on one hand and Basarwa and human rights organisations on the other since Basarwa successfully challenged the government over their relocation from the CKGR in 2006.

However, following the government's refusal to grant them access to water within the park, Basarwa launched another case in which they wanted to be allowed to drill a borehole in one area of the park or to rehabilitate an old one.  Justice Lakhvinder Walia of the Lobatse High Court dismissed the application, saying Basarwa had chosen to settle in areas far from those facilities and should therefore live by their decision. Basarwa have challenged Justice Walia's decision and the matter is now before the Court of Appeal, the highest court in the land.

To the consternation of Baswarwa, other Batswana and human rights organisations, the government is opposing the appeal. It is significant that when the government first relocated Basarwa from CKGR, it denied that there was diamond prospecting in the park, a debate which has since ended.



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