The Bushmen of Gope

Who are the Bushmen of Gope?
Several Bushman clans or ‘bands’ occupy the south-eastern part of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) and share the resources of this area which they call Ghagho, and outsiders call Gope.

The Gope Bushmen identify themselves as Tsila, which, along with Gana and Gwi, is one of the click languages spoken by the Bushmen of the CKGR.

How many Bushmen live in Gope?
Before they were all evicted in 2002, the Bushmen of Gope numbered about 200 individuals.

Map showing traditional territories of different Bushman groups inside the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. The territory of the Gope Bushmen is highlighted in red. The large Gope diamond deposit can be seen almost in the middle of their territory
Were there Bushmen at Gope before De Beers arrived?
Bushmen have lived in the Gope area for generations, and long before Falconbridge and De Beers started diamond prospecting in the early 1980s.

Many alive today were born there. Moloreng Balane, born in 1923, recalls, ‘I was born in Gope and my grandparents originated and died there.’

Many Bushmen from Gope recall when the first prospectors arrived. Segoko says, ‘When the mine started, we used to see aeroplanes, which frightened us. Then we saw lots of cars. This whole area, including on the spot where the mine shaft is, was inhabited by Bushman people who fled.’

Why is Gope important to the Bushmen?
At certain times of the year family groups meet here to collect wild fruits, especially monkey oranges, which are an important part of their diet.

How long have they lived here?

Evidence of long occupation is demonstrated in the detailed knowledge of the land and its resources, accumulated and handed down by generations of Bushmen. The Bushmen have names in their language for many places in the territory, another indicator of long occupation of the land.

The fact that the Bushmen have ancestral graves at Gope also points to long occupation of the area. Tlhalefang, a Bushman woman from Gope recalls that, ‘We used to have a water hole on the other side of the shaft. But the people from the mine pumped stuff into it underground and now it is filled in. We used to have monkey oranges but we haven’t seen any since the shaft has been here. This land belonged to our great grandparents – we have their burial sites here.’

Ancestral graves are highlighted in the Environmental Impact Assessment for a New Diamond Mine at Gope, commissioned by De Beers. It says that, ‘Oral interviews in the Gope and Metsiamenong areas indicate that people retain a very strong sense of place within this landscape. People … identify strongly with remembered landscapes such as hunting grounds, burial places of their ancestors and their own abandoned settlements.’

This map shows the populations of the various Bushman groups just before Botswana's independence, with the present-day boundary of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve super-imposed in red. It can clearly be seen that the whole area was occupied by Bushmen.
The anthropologist Dr George Silberbauer was appointed Bushman Survey Officer by the government in 1958. Whilst carrying out his survey of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, he met the Gope Bushman bands. Their territory is marked on the map published in his survey for the government in 1964.

Is there a mine at Gope?
Not at the moment. De Beers operated a prospecting mine shaft there for some years. It has been dismantled. In May 2007 De Beers sold its deposit at Gope to Gem Diamonds, for $34 million. Gem Diamonds’ chief executive called the Gope deposit ‘a problematic asset for De Beers’ because of the Bushmen campaign.

Although De Beers had repeatedly claimed that the find was ‘sub-economic’, Gem Diamonds has stated publicly that it contains more than $2.2 billion-worth of diamonds, and it plans to develop a mine at Gope as quickly as possible.

Who else is exploring for diamonds around Gope?
Petra Diamonds is drilling in a large area of the eastern CKGR, including in the territory of the Gope Bushmen.

The Bushmen’s position on mining
The Bushmen of the CKGR have made it clear that they do not think mining or any other developments should take place on their land until they are allowed to return to live there, and are recognised as the rightful owners. Only then will they be in a position to negotiate freely with companies and the government. This is in accordance with the international law on tribal peoples which upholds their right to own their land and to be fully informed and consulted about any proposed development on it.

Survival’s position on mining
Survival is not for or against mining on tribal peoples’ land. We believe that developments on tribal peoples’ lands should only take place after they have been fully consulted and given their free and informed consent.