Survival International and its supporters protested last week the continuing abuse of the G/wi people for two very different reasons, both of which received attention in the press.
On Wednesday, March 12, SI staged a demonstration outside Chatham House in London, where three influential women from Botswana were scheduled to be part of a seminar focusing on the beneficiation of diamonds—a process whereby mined ore is separated into minerals and waste. The women included Sheila Khama, CEO of De Beers Botswana, Athaliah Molokomme, Attorney General of the country, and Linah Mohohlo, Governor of the Bank of Botswana.
The SI protest included people holding up placards with photos on them of three San women who had died due to their eviction from their homes in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR). SI stated that “Botswana’s High Court declared the evictions ‘unlawful’ in 2006. But the government is preventing the Bushmen from returning to their land in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve by banning them from using their own borehole there.”
De Beers, which had purchased a concession to explore and mine diamonds in the CKGR, sold it in 2007 to Gem Diamonds, which contends that the minerals are worth US $2.2 billion. It intends to begin mining as soon as possible. Two San groups, the G/wi and the G//ana, were evicted by the government a number of years ago in order to make sure there were no competing claims by indigenous people to the diamond wealth. The government maintained for several years that the enforced removal of the people was solely for their own good and for the protection of the wildlife, but that fiction no longer seems to be important.
SI described the three San women who had died. Qoroxloo died of starvation and dehydration in 2005 in the CKGR since the authorities arrested her relatives who were trying to take water and food to her. Another anonymous woman died of AIDS in a relocation camp, and a third, named Dibe, died “of a broken heart” in a camp. The Agence de Presse Africaine tried unsuccessfully to get comments from the three prominent women about the deaths of the three impoverished indigenous people.
A press release issued by SI about the vigil quoted a local jeweler named Pippa Small about the use and sale of conflict diamonds, an issue that is important across Africa and, increasingly, worldwide. “Jewellery is becoming more ethically aware and consumers are becoming more aware of the background of the stones. I just don’t want to work in a material that has caused damage or death or misery to anybody,” she said.
Later in the week, SI ratcheted up its publicity about the human rights abuses of the G/wi and G//ana people. According to a story in the Independent on March 16, the BBC is planning to release on Easter Sunday, March 23rd, a film adaptation of the world famous first novel by Alexander McCall Smith, “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.” SI accuses the best-selling author of perpetuating negative stereotypes of the San people in his books, especially in the second novel in the series, “Tears of the Giraffe.”
According to Stephen Corry, director of SI, that novel particularly demeans the San people. He contends that false portrayals of the San have contributed to the real harm they have suffered in Botswana. One scene in “Tears of the Giraffe” describes the infanticide that allegedly occurs when a San woman has died. “When a Mosarwa [another word for San] woman dies and she’s still feeding a baby, they bury the baby too… That’s the way it is,” the novelist writes.
Corry said that such things are, in fact, “exceedingly rare.” He criticizes the rosy portrayal of Botswana society, when in reality the minority San people are treated very badly there. “Their experience is one of repression, bullying and persecution by a government that seems determined not to let them go home, despite what their courts say.”
The British actor Idris Elba, one of the stars in the drama, defended the novel and movie. He called the stories simply fiction, where the characters can be anything that the author wants to create—embellishments, exaggerations, whatever. While he says he respects Corry’s views, he did not get any sense of disrespect while he was participating in the filming in Botswana. “I think he should put it into perspective,” Elba said.
The new film also made it into the Sunday Times. The development of tourism, based on the famous novels, has evidently generated a lot of pride among the Batswana, the people of the country. The government donated US$5 million to the production of the film, so long as it was made there and included their citizens in the cast and production crews.
Anthony Minghella (who just died on Tuesday), winner of an Oscar for his direction of “The English Patient,” and well-known writer Richard Curtis, collaborators in developing the film script for the movie, agreed to cooperate with the Botswana government. The “No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency,” a story about Precious Ramotswe, a Batswana female detective, took them six years to develop. The filming included several famous actors plus around 1,500 local people as extras in the film and crew members. The filming apparently went very well.
Attorney General Molokomme is quite defensive of Smith’s portrayal of Botswana. At the end of the diamond seminar, she told the press, “he paints women in Africa just as they are, strong, resilient and proud.” CEO Khama also indicated her approval for the novel and the movie, which are helping promote tourism in the country. Neither mentioned the plight of the G/wi.