The sparkling rock on your finger — there’s a good chance it came from a mine in Botswana, which supplies 22 per cent of the world’s diamonds. Kgosi Kegapetswe is the chief of Letlhakane, a village in north-central Botswana that borders a huge mine that since 1969 was owned by an international diamond company.
For years, he felt like a stranger on his own land. Access to the land was restricted, according to the chief, who told us that when he visited the off-limits property to discuss an issue like grazing rights for his community’s livestock, he waited like a supplicant at the property line. When armed guards admitted him, he was marched to the meeting place and then marched back off again. He said there wasn’t enough consultation with his community. He didn’t even know the company sold the property in 2009 until the new owners showed up.
But when Canadian mining company Lucara Diamond took possession, everything changed. We have read literally hundreds of news stories about global mining operations abusing the environment and human rights. Canada is home to an estimated 75 per cent of the world’s international mining companies, and every time these companies trample rights or the environment, respect for our country takes another hit.
In the past several months alone, there have been protests against Canadian-owned mines in Bolivia, Ecuador, the Dominican Republic, Greece, Israel, Nicaragua, Peru, Romania and Slovakia.
But while touring Botswana with Governor General David Johnston in May, we visited Lucara’s Karowe diamond mine. For only the second time in the history of the mine, they brought out raw diamonds to show visitors. These small, dirty-looking, foggy white-ish pebbles were uncut diamonds worth more than two million dollars. As the diamonds were showcased, company officials boasted that they had created a different kind of mine — one that respects local communities and wants them to benefit from the mine’s riches.
It sounded too good to be true. When the corporate tour guides weren’t near, we quietly pulled Kegapetswe aside and asked for the real scoop. Was all this true, or just corporate whitewash? He assured us it was real.
“It’s not like the other mine that came before,” he said. “We are working together with the mine now and we are happy.”
William Lamb, CEO of B.C.-based Lucara Diamond Corp, said that before Lucara ever broke ground, company representatives attended numerous community meetings in all five surrounding villages to introduce themselves, explain the company’s plans for the property and solicit for input and concerns from the residents.
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