There is new twist in the long-standing dispute between the Debswana Mining Company and the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) over installation of full body ray scanners.
Debswana had taken DEA to court to compel the department to give approval for installation of the machines. While DEA had not filed opposing papers the case was scheduled for status hearing last week Thursday. It has since emerged that the department had a day before the case came for status hearing, written letter of approval for a go ahead.
Now Botswana Mine Workers Union (BMWU) has entered the fray and is tomorrow (Saturday) scheduled to petition Debswana Mining Company over its intention to install the controversial low dose full body X-ray scanners (Scannex) at its mines.
The installation of the machines has been marred by controversy for the past five years when the diamond mining company revealed that it would be installing the machines with the aim of protecting the precious stones from theft. The petition by the union follows the decision by DEA authorising installation of the machines.
The diamond mining giant got a conditional license some years back from the Department of Radiation to install the low dose full body X-ray scanner (Scannex) in various locations at the Jwaneng, Orapa, Letlhakane and Damtshaa mines. Debswana had submitted a Draft Scoping Report to DEA. The DEA had initially questioned whether statistics by Debswana imply a decline in cases of diamond theft and if it also suggests the success of the current security measures.
In an interview with Botswana Guardian this week BMWU President Jack Tlhagale said they are still against the installation of the machines. He explained that they are aware that a day before a court case by Debswana challenging the delay by DEA the department granted the authorisation for installation. Minister of Environment, Natural Resources, Conservation and Tourism Tshekedi Khama was at one point accused of blocking the authorisation. In his defense, Khama stated that all he wanted was for proper procedure to be followed indicating that he would not endanger the lives of miners who are Batswana. The minister explained that as soon as Debswana avails all the necessary documentation as per the request his ministry would grant the authorisation.
“The case was to be heard on June 21st 2018 and a day prior, a letter of authoirastion was issued. What also worries us is that for a long time we have been questioning the installation of these machines but we were not made part of the court case.
“We could have made our case known before court why we believe the machines should not be installed. This is why we are petitioning the company at both Jwaneng and Letlhakane mines where we expect Managing Director Balisi Bonyongo or representatives to receive the petition,” said Tlhagale.
Under “dose limitations” DEA had asked Debswana to stipulate the number of times employees are expected to be exposed to these scans in the different areas of the mine per day “in order to determine the possibility (or lack thereof) of exceeding the limits”. Pregnant women and individuals under the age of 16 are exempted from exposure to the scanner.
The union President said Debswana has failed to bring concrete proof from external experts to indicate that a small dose of ionising radiation is not harmful. “We engaged experts whom in their report expressed fear that exposure to ionising radiation could result in cell death, cell damage, cancer and that prolonged exposure could lead to death. Botswana Mine Workers Union is against the use of Scannex,” said the president.
Debswana has justified the use of Scannex saying the physical search methods and surveillance of personnel at work areas have proven insufficient. “Since diamonds are portable, and easily concealable, a diamond thief can conceal the stones in body orifices such as nostrils, ears, mouth, navel, penis (urethra and foreskin) or vagina or the rectum,” Debswana stated in its draft scoping report to DEA under the subhead “rationale for the project.”
Tlhagale argued that using South Africa and Namibia as success stories of the use of this technology for over 20 years is not justifiable. “Because those machines were installed by apartheid regime. We also know how the regime treated people so that is not justifiable. As we have said before and explained by experts the Radiation Protection Regulations of 2008; Regulation 37 (5) requires that records of workers be preserved until the worker reaches 75 years, and for not less than 30 years after termination of work involving occupational exposure.
“Where are we going to get records of such people? Who is going to be monitoring them because obviously Debswana would not be doing that? People would get sick after having retired from the mines and die without any records being kept. We are worried about this situation because our members are going to be subjected to these machines every day when they knock off,” he explained.
Tlhagale said they would also petition the company on the 3 percent salary increase which was agreed in 2016. He said they want a new increase to be negotiated. “We had agreed to the 3 percent because at that time it was public knowledge that our diamonds were not doing well. Currently things have improved,” posited Tlhagale.
In the agreement between the parties there is a clause that stipulates that parties can review if inflation goes beyond 5 percent. However, Tlhagale argues that that should not be the only factor that is being considered. Minister Khama could not be reached for comment this week as he was said to be busy with Sothern African Customs Union (SACU) summit while DEA Director Charles Mojalemotho was said to be in Denmark on official duty.
Debswana’s Corporate Affairs Manager Matshidiso Kamona said Debswana has not received an approval to install Scannex machines. “We can confirm that we have received an official notification of a planned mass demonstration by the Botswana Mine Workers Union. According to the note addressed to the Managing Director of Debswana, Mr. Balisi Bonyongo, the petition relates to unsatisfactory conditions of service in general and it has no reference to Scannex,” she said in her short email response.