Stones of Contention: A History of Africa's Diamonds (Africa in World History)

Stones of Contention: A History of Africa's Diamonds (Africa in World History)

Todd Cleveland

Language: English

Pages: 240

ISBN: 082142100X

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Africa supplies the majority of the world’s diamonds, yet consumers generally know little about the origins and history of these precious stones beyond sensationalized media accounts of so-called blood diamonds.

Stones of Contention explores the major developments in the remarkable history of Africa’s diamonds, from the first stirrings of international interest in the continent’s mineral wealth in the first millennium A.D. to the present day. In the European colonial period, the discovery of diamonds in South Africa ushered in an era of unprecedented greed during which monopolistic enterprises exploited both the mineral resources and the indigenous workforce. In the aftermath of World War II, the governments of newly independent African states, both democratic and despotic, joined industry giant De Beers and other corporations to oversee and profit from mining activity on the continent.

The book also considers the experiences of a wide array of Africans—from informal artisanal miners, company mineworkers, and indigenous authorities to armed rebels, mining executives, and premiers of mineral-rich states—and their relationships to the stones that have the power to bring both wealth and misery. With photos and maps, Stones of Contention illustrates the scope and compexity of the African diamond trade as well as its impact on individuals and societies.

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pincers on account of the latter’s alleged pilferage of a diamond. Although these cases may have been extreme examples, during these initial decades of mining, corporal abuse was unquestionably part and parcel of the daily experience for African laborers. Only gradually did these employment hazards recede for African mine workers. Combining to reduce fatalities from industrial accidents were increased regulation and heightened managerial concern, as well as lessons (lethally) learned. Of course,

the talismanic founder of De Beers died, leaving behind an enterprise that controlled a remarkable 90 percent of the world’s diamond production. Yet a challenge that materialized that same year would shake the very foundations of Rhodes’s company. Henry Ward, the owner of Cullinan (or Premier) Mine, which had just come on line in South Africa, refused to join the De Beers cartel, opting instead to sell to Bernard and Ernest Oppenheimer—a pair of independent diamond dealers whose names in the

apparent that this strategy was inadequate. Shortly thereafter, the company allocated a portion of its concessionary lands to raise livestock and cultivate corn, manioc, rice, and groundnuts. At the same time, the Belgian colonial state attempted to ease food shortages on the mines (and in other commercial settings) by enacting an ordinance that forced indigenous residents to utilize land to generate food for local consumption (as well as for export). The government then bought this food at

produced in almost unlimited quantities, and can be customized for specific applications. Synthetic industrials also show great promise as semiconductors in the construction of microchips and as heat sinks, which are used to cool down electronics, such as laptop computers. Given all of the current and potential usages for synthetic industrials, this industry is fast rivaling the overall value of the gemstone market. Although synthetic stones, which can cost as little as 40 cents per carat,

two major diamond-producing countries have acted as reasonable stewards of their significant deposits, allocating sizable sums for domestic investment and development in a transparent manner. Remarkable accomplishments, for sure, but not the sort that are likely to attract attention from either the global media or, certainly, Hollywood. But, that may well be exactly how the two countries like it, even if Namibia has benefited from the significant attention it has derived from repeated visits to

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