Sharing The Wealth
De Beers, black empowerment and the new South Africa
For black South Africans, jobs and ownership in mineral industries such
as diamonds and gold mean they are finally beginning to share in the riches
their land produces.
In its quest for empowerment, the black community looked first to De
Beers, based in South Africa since its inception in 1888. It's been a delicate
matter for De Beers because of lingering resentment over its size, success
and wealth. But the company run for so many years by Harry Oppenheimer,
a liberal who continually called for an end to apartheid is working
on a number of fronts to ease the situation.
De Beers has been selling mineral rights for several years to small-scale
miners, many of whom have come from the black community and are supported
by black empowerment groups. Earlier this year, De Beers announced the sale
of half its 60% stake in the high-quality Marsfontein diamond mine in South
Africa's Northern Province to a consortium of black empowerment groups.
In addition, De Beers is helping create other diamond-related mining
business opportunities for blacks. These include recycling plants where
kimberlite sifted ages ago in search of diamonds can be reprocessed to look
for any that still remain.
De Beers also supports the efforts of blacks to become proficient cutters
through its interests in several diamond cutting factories. These include
SA Teemane, which recently became a CSO sightholder and, thus, can acquire
diamonds from De Beers. The CSO also awarded a sight to its subsidiary,
Diamdel, which stimulates business among small cutters in South Africa by
selling smaller parcels, some containing as little as one diamond.
One of De Beers' most significant efforts toward growth of the cutting
industry is its sponsorship of the Harry Oppenheimer Diamond Training School
in Johannesburg. The school, founded in 1997, will hold a second symposium
on diamond training this month. Its training courses focus on teaching young
diamond workers about sorting, evaluating, cutting and polishing rough diamonds,
as well as evaluating polished diamonds. De Beers also is investigating
the creation of a Johannesburg center that would provide skilled artisans
with working space and other forms of assistance.
by Peggy Jo Donahue
Copyright © 1999 by Bond Communications.