Sharing The Wealth

April 1999


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.

Mining Matters
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.

Cutting Counts
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.


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