People of diamonds
Ever since the Kimberley diamond strike of 1869, South Africa has been a world leader in diamond production. Today, the country ranks among the top 10 diamond producers globally, producing 10% of the world’s diamonds. In 2018 about 10.5Mct of diamonds were produced locally.
Total employee earnings increased by R1 billion over a five-year period from 2018, R6 billion in 2022. Over the same period employee numbers declined 16,666 to 14,569 people. It is estimated that for every person employed in the diamond industry, another nine dependants are supported.
The employee profile of the mining industry has changed significantly, reflecting more accurately the demographics of the country. The 2004 Mining Charter provided a framework for the entry, at all levels, of historically disadvantaged South Africans into the industry, including women. The Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) and mining companies encourage women to be active at all levels in the industry. The Mining Charter set a target of 10% for women in core mining jobs and by 2022 overall representation had reached 154%.
Where possible, the diamond mining industry prioritises recruitment from areas close to its operations, to foster a stable and cohesive workforce and to contribute to the development of local communities.
Key figures in the South African diamond mining industry
In March 1867, the 15-year-old Jacobs found a transparent rock on his father’s farm, on the south bank of the Orange River. This transparent rock was subsequently confirmed as a diamond and was bought by Sir Philip Wodehouse, Governor of the Cape, for £500. The diamond later became known as the Eureka diamond and weighed in at 21.19ct. Over the next few years, South Africa yielded more diamonds than India had in over 2,000 years.
JOHANNES AND DIEDERIK DE BEER
In 1871, the De Beer brothers bought a farm named Vooruitzicht near Zandfontein in the then Orange Free State. They soon discovered diamonds on their land. This lead to a diamond rush, which made it impossible for them to keep the farm, as they were not able to protect their land from the growing tide of intruders. After selling the farm, Vooruitzicht would become the site of the Big Hole – or Kimberley mine – and the De Beers mine, two successful diamond mines. Their name, given to the one mine, subsequently became associated with the company. Kimberley is famous for the Big Hole, which is often referred to as the world’s deepest manmade hole. The Big Hole is a huge pit, almost circular and 215m deep, right in the middle of the town.
BARNEY BARNATO AND CECIL JOHN RHODES
In 1873, 20-year old Barnato arrived penniless in South Africa from England. In 1876 he bought four claims in Kimberley mine and later formed Barnato Diamond Mining Company which he merged with Kimberley Central Mining Company in 1883. In 1888, Barnato sold out to Rhodes, after much competition between them. The amalgamation lead to the formation of De Beers Consolidated Mines, the name synonymous with diamonds, and the company which dominated the world’s diamond market for many years. Rhodes had arrived in South Africa in 1870 and invested £3,000 his aunt had lent him in the Kimberley diamond diggings, from where he purchased diamond claims and became prosperous.
Cullinan, prospector and entrepreneur, was convinced that there were diamonds to be found on the Cornelis Minnaar Farm, Elandsfontein, and purchased the farm in 1902. Cullinan’s optimism was not unfounded. The full extent of the kimberlite diamond pipe was soon established – 32ha in area and the largest in the world – and the Premier Diamond Mining Company was established.
Sir Ernest Oppenheimer was a German-born diamond and gold mining entrepreneur, financier and philanthropist, who controlled De Beers from 1927 and founded the Anglo American Corporation of South Africa. He was succeeded in the business by his son Harry.
Harry headed Anglo American from 1957 to 1982 and De Beers from 1957 to 1984. Harry’s son, Nicky, became De Beers’ chairman in 1998. He retired in 2012 when the family stake in the company was sold to Anglo American. The Oppenheimers’ diamond fortunes provided the capital for development of the gold mining industry. Diamonds could be described as the spark which led South Africa – and mining – into the industrial era.
In February 2018, Mantashe was appointed South African Minister of Mineral Resources. Trade unionist Mantashe served for 10 years as general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) from 1997 before becoming secretary general of the ANC in 2007, a position which he held until December 2017. He made history by becoming the first trade unionist to be appointed to the board of directors of a JSE listed company, Samancor, in 1995.
Ramaphosa was appointed the fifth and current President of South Africa in February 2018. Before that, he was the country’s Deputy President from 2014. He was the founding general secretary of the NUM in 1982. He became part of the ANC’s congress movement when he was instrumental in the founding of COSATU in 1985. He was elected secretary general of the ANC in 2002, and led the constitutional negotiations for the ANC. He entered the business world in 1997 after failing to be elected to succeed Nelson Mandela as ANC president, returning to politics in 2012.