De Beers and Survival Rhetorical War Escalates

A series of dueling press releases has escalated the now-three-year-old war of words between De Beers and Survival International—with De Beers saying the group’s campaign is “dishonest” and “deceptive.”

The nongovernmental organization charges the Botswana Bushmen are being moved from their ancestral lands because De Beers wants to mine diamonds there.

It’s launched anti–De Beers protests at the “Diamonds” exhibition at the Natural History Museum and at the De Beers stores in London and in New York (the latter was attended by noted activist Gloria Steinem). When models Iman and Lily Cole began appearing on behalf of De Beers, Survival called for boycotts of them and claimed victory when they stopped working for the company (De Beers says their contracts ran out). In the most memorable stunt, Survival defaced a De Beers billboard featuring then–“style icon” Iman by replacing her with a Bushman.

Just recently, Survival “targeted” designer Neil Lane because he now works for the De Beers chain. “People in the fashion business need to be made aware of the catastrophic effect diamonds are having on the Bushmen,” said Survival’s Stephen Corry. “It is not OK for people to wear diamonds by De Beers until the Bushmen are allowed back to their ancestral lands.”

From the beginning De Beers has denied that diamonds have anything to do with the evacuations. At the announcement of the company’s financial results, company chairman Nicky Oppenheimer said, “We are astounded to be finding ourselves being used as a football in a game we are not playing.”

In a recent release, De Beers went on the offensive, saying it “continues to challenge Survival International to provide any credible evidence to support its allegation that the relocation[s are] linked either to the prospecting for diamonds in the Reserve or to De Beers in particular.” It called the Survival campaign “dangerous, irresponsible, and [insulting to] the intelligence of anyone with an interest in the future welfare of the Bushmen.”

It noted that several local NGOs “have indicated their wish to engage with Government. The Government has indicated that its door is open to talks. The only obstacle standing between them and the possibility of an agreed settlement through constructive dialogue is Survival International.”

Even so, Survival is not backing down. In a release it sent out in July, it claims that several Bushmen were told they were being evacuated to make room for diamonds.