On the diamond trial

By Iseult McLister

The first diamond auction in Zimbabwe since the ban enforced by the Kimberly Process was lifted, took place on 11 August. The Kimberly Process was set up as a joint government, industry and civil society initiative to stem the flow of African conflict diamonds. Many conflict diamonds came from the Marange fields where the Zimbabwean army forced out tens of thousands small-scale miners in 2008, and began forcing villagers, some as young as ten, to work as slaves under the threat of death and violence.

These human rights abuses led to the global suspension of the sale of Zimbabwean diamonds through the initiative. Private jets delivered buyers from India, Israel, Russia, Lebanon and the US amid tight security at Harare international airport to the auction in August, just six days after Naomi Campbell testified during his war crimes trial at The Hague that she had received blood diamonds from Charles Taylor, former president of Liberia.

So what’s the point of diamonds? Diamonds have two applications: industry and pleasure. The monetary value of industrial and gemstone diamonds vary greatly. Industrial diamonds need to be hard as they are used for cutting. Most industrial diamonds are synthetic and are produced in a lab, as opposed to diamonds mined from the Earth.

These industrial diamonds, both natural and synthetic, have an intrinsic usefulness value and provide a service. Natural diamonds are only preferable to synthetic diamonds when they are cost effective, that is, cheaper. Gemstone diamonds are valued for clarity and colour and are used in jewellery, and a store of value for the exchange of goods and services. In recent years it has been possible to produce gem-quality synthetic diamonds of significant size.

It seems that the market for diamonds is supported by societal pressure, ritual and myth. Their worth devalues the lives of the people who mine them, a colonial inheritance of ethnic inequality. This theft of natural resources gives rise to the notion that the West’s imperial ambition still holds strong on naturally rich Africa.