Indian businesses are also participants in such a sordid tale. A news story in the latest issue of Tehelka brings out what some of us have always been aware of and conscious about. Here it is:
The blood diamond files
Following the trail from Johannesburg to Mumbai, SHANTANU GUHA RAY finds that India is an important destination for Zimba stones
IT’S A crowded street market in Johannesburg. Boisterous youth and elderly women have set up stalls to sell polished ostrich eggshells, wrought iron flamingos and colourful bead strings. But in this Jo’burg bustle, there is often another hustle: the simple street markets also play host to the kind of sellers who come in big flashy cars and sell an item that’s quite, quite small in size — though not quite small when it comes to price.
The scenes are reminiscent of the 2006 Leonardo DiCaprio Hollywood movie Blood Diamond, and these people are dealers, many of them former mineworkers who have been driven out by the military from the Marange mines.
Diamond merchants such as these operate freely on the streets of Jo’burg. Those who cannot strike a deal here can head to Mozambique’s Vila de Mancia, a town close to the Machipanda frontier often referred to as diamond country.
Although many operators in Johannesburg say it is getting harder to smuggle Zimbabwe’s diamonds, the sale continues unabated. The Zimbabwean authorities have awarded contracts for the Marange mines to two companies: Mbada Mining, a little-known local firm, and Canadile Miners, a company that has South African investors. Desperate for cash, Zimbabwean Mines Minister Obert Mpofu has gone ahead with mining what he believes can bring the cash-strapped nation a whopping £360,000 a day.
Trade in conflict diamonds has certainly been going on for some years, augmented by – experts claim – the efforts of some of the world’s top diamond miners to slowly increase output.
With steady supplies available now, and demand having picked up, very few importers bother to check the origins of their diamonds. On paper, the consignments come from a legitimate nation, right? And for a cutting and polishing industry that is showing signs of revival after almost a year of depression, would anyone genuinely care to bother too much about the antecedents of the product? The answer is a simple no. “The problem is that no one actually knows the origin. Or, very few would actually know and care about not getting these stones because the KP certificates are there. But we must be cautious,” says Rohit Mehta of the Surat Diamond Association.
Still, the fact that blood diamonds are among those being imported continues to cause concern. Tim Dabson, executive director of De Beers, recently told an international conference in Antwerp, Belgium, that ethical consumerism is of utmost importance if someone has to checkmate the outflow of conflict gemstones. “The risks include the tendency of consumers in India and China to favour less expensive gems than what sell elsewhere,” Dabson told The Wall Street Journal.
Last June, the Human Rights Watch exposed the horrors of Marange and shot a film to highlight the situation there. A task team from the KP Certification Scheme confirmed HRW’s findings and recommended that Zimbabwe be suspended from trading in diamonds. But the horrors have continued. “Gems from Marange travelling to India, China and Israel are blood diamonds, extracted through the persecution and oppression of those living in the area,” Georgette Gagnon, HRW’s Africa director told TEHELKA, adding that importers need to make sure of the stones’ origin.
But it’s not easy. In fact, diamond merchants in Surat and Mumbai say it’s almost impossible. “When we are following the KP certificates, we are playing it safe. The onus to check and cross check whether such diamonds are coming from Congo, Zimbabwe and Sierra Leone lies on those who keep getting supplies from such troubled zones,” says Nanavati.
He says there’s enough of a divide within the Kimberley Process itself on whether there should be a suspension of such supplies or whether there should be some strict monitoring of such mining. Many have argued against the scheme because Zimbabwe has been defended most strongly by South Africa, Namibia, Congo and Russia.
Ian Smillie, one of the KP architects who resigned earlier this year in protest against its working, told Bloomberg that he found the functioning of KP farcical, irresponsible and a disgrace. “Here we have a government that has lied repeatedly to the KP and has a tenuous grip on its diamond industry — that courtesy of gross human rights violations. The regulatory body that is supposed to assure consumers that the diamonds it certifies are clean ignores its responsibility and sets up an open-ended tea party. It will turn the KP into a laughing stock and give Zimbabwe more or less carte blanche for business.”
There are other problems as well. Diamond mining in eastern Zimbabwe is being carried out by companies in which South Africa’s Old Mutual has a share. The companies are now setting up a diamond- cutting operation at Harare airport: that will allow them to export diamonds without the KP certification.
But there are those trying to stop illegal diamond trafficking. Israel has agreed to lead a group working to stop rebels from using the $6 billion trade in conflict diamonds to fund fighting.
From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 6, Issue 47, Dated November 28, 2009