By Penny Hess, African People's Solidarity Committee

Most of us blithely take for granted the resources available to us in our daily lives. We don't give much thought to the brutality and suffering it takes to extract those resources for our use at the expense of the people to whom they belong.

To this day, we continue to mindlessly pump gas into our cars without thinking of the deadly violence in the Middle East being waged so that the American people can continue to use all the oil we want. The same holds true for diamonds, the glittering rocks of crystallized carbon worn by millions.

Long revered as rare, benign gems symbolizing the ideals of beauty and everlasting love, diamonds are the desired gift for engagements, anniversaries, graduations, or simply as an expression of love. Diamonds are thought to be the makings of heirlooms, something to pass down from generation to generation with ever appreciating value.

These myths about the diamond trade, however, couldn't be further from the truth. This is a look into the reality of diamonds and the real price of this seemingly innocent stone for millions of African people and others whose lives are affected immeasurably by the world's gem obsession. Perhaps these facts about the diamond trade can help open our eyes to the deeper reality of an entire social system built on violence, slavery, genocide and the degradation of others in order to create a generous lifestyle for others. Maybe we can begin to wake up to the fact that nothing in our daily lives is innocent or exempt from the bloodshed and terror necessary for conquest. Not even, for example, our cell phones and computers that require the mineral coltan from the Congo, where 5 million people have been slaughtered since 1998 in U.S.-backed coltan wars.

The same goes for our food, our colleges, gas, electricity, water, banks, running shoes and housing - most things, in fact - they all are necessary components in an economy built on African slavery and colonialism around the world. The story of diamonds is just one of them.


In recent years, as a result of U.S. backed wars in Western Africa, there have been popular campaigns against buying "conflict" or "blood" diamonds. Rap songs, movie stars and articles in cyberspace warn us against these tainted stones. These campaigns insist that anyone buying diamond jewelry must be careful to select only those diamonds certified by the accepted, legal Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS). This scheme supposedly protects Africa from diamonds mined by the perpetrators of the deadly wars in West Africa characterized by rape, mutilations, displacement and outright slaughter carried out over the past 15 years or so.

The fact is though, that it was the powerful DeBeers diamond cartel itself that created the concept of "blood" diamonds, fearful that diamonds coming out of the war-torn areas of West Africa would flood the market and undermine their long standing worldwide control of the price of the stones. The Kimberley process scheme is just that-their scheme to maintain control of the world's diamond supply.

All diamonds are blood diamonds. All diamonds are conflict diamonds. The brutal Western imperial proxy wars in West Africa over diamond mines have been horrific. These wars, however, are only another chapter in the last hundred years of colonial terror as it has been represented by the diamond trade, controlled by the DeBeers cartel.

The legacy of the diamond is steeped in the slavery, colonialism, genocide and terror that built and maintains the Western capitalist system. We are the beneficiaries of this genocidal system.

Today, diamonds from African soil are worth billions of dollars, wealth that is concentrated mostly in the U.S., Europe, Israel and the white population of South Africa. African people on their own land, laboring in the mines under slave-like conditions for pennies a day, have no control over the diamond trade whatsoever and see no benefits from its profits.


In the 1870s, during the period called the "scramble for Africa," the brutal Cecil Rhodes was colonizing Southern Africa, setting up the African front of British imperialism. One of Rhodes' primary endeavors was the large diamond mine in Kimberley, South Africa. The gems from this mine made Rhodes a multi-millionaire and consolidated his power in the region. The price that African people paid was the mass slaughter of tens of thousands and the seizure of their territories. Whole populations were dispersed when Rhodes dynamited them off their lands. African families were destroyed as African men were rounded up by the thousands in forced labor concentration camps near the diamond mines, a practice that continues today.

The British colonial exploits in Africa and around the world followed on the heels of more than three centuries of the trade in African people themselves. The immeasurable wealth generated by the slave trade catapulted England out of the poverty and ignorance of feudalism and transformed it into a wealthy industrialized nation. It was this process that brought about the birth of the capitalist system itself.

In his book Capital, written in the 1860s, Karl Marx raised the questions, "How did capitalism actually begin? Where did it get its start up money?" He surmised that the capitalist system must have had a first, or "primitive" accumulation of wealth or capital coming from outside of Europe-which, initially, was barren, impoverished and unproductive.

Marx observed: "The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black skins signalized the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production. These idyllic proceedings are the chief momenta of primitive accumulation."

Omali Yeshitela, leader of the Uhuru Movement and Chairman of the African People's Socialist Party, pointed out more than a hundred years later, however, that Marx's statements about primitive accumulation of capital were a "definition of the significance of the enslavement of African people only as it impacted on development inside Europe, a development which necessarily means what has come to be called the underdevelopment of Africa, Asia and Latin America." This is true because if Marx really understood his own observation he would have come to the conclusion that the force that could overturn the capitalist system of workers and bosses would not be white workers in Europe, but the Indigenous people entombed in the mines and the Africans whose homeland had become a warren for the hunting of black skins.

"Marx's world was white," Yeshitela asserts. "The enslaved Asian, African and 'Indian' of North and South America were essentially objects of history, having more or less significance for European development."

The DeBeers diamond cartel has always done what the U.S.-backed rebels of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Congo have done to African people, and even worse. DeBeers simply had the power to hide it from the view of the white world, for whom the fate of African people has never been a concern in any case.

This is the context for the definition of "blood" or "conflict" diamonds. It's not just a particular atrocity that comes to our attention at any given moment. It's a centuries-long institutionalized process of ripping the humanity, the beauty, the resources, land and independence out of the soul of Africa for others' benefit.

Blood was dripping from diamonds long before the slaughter began in West Africa in the 1990s.


The sixteenth century Aztecs wrote of the Spaniards, "They lifted up the gold as if they were monkeys, with expressions of joy, as if it put new life into them and lit up their hearts. As if it were certainly something for which they yearn with great thirst. Their bodies fatten on it and they hunger violently for it. They crave gold like hungry swine."

The Aztecs could have said the same thing for white people and diamonds, except that the lust had to be prompted a little by a DeBeers' marketing campaign. To bolster a sagging diamond economy in the 1940s, the cartel hired a public relations firm that launched DeBeers' now-famous slogan, "a diamond is forever," convincing every American woman that she must have a diamond ring to get engaged or married.

The DeBeers cartel was built on their fabrication that diamonds are a rare commodity. Diamonds appear anywhere in the world that there is carbon-and that is almost everywhere. They also are easily manufactured. DeBeers has used its own private armies and other forms of intimidation to manufacture diamond scarcity by forcing countries to keep them off the market. Unlike other precious gems and metals, the price of diamonds is always going up, but the resale value is very low, no matter how much one pays for them in the first place.

In the third century BC, diamonds were found and used in India for religious and artistic purposes. In China, because of their hardness, diamonds were mounted on the tip of iron tools as engraving instruments. Traditionally diamonds were considered by many cultures to have healing properties. But when diamonds were found in Africa all that changed.

In 1875, despite the ravages of the slave trade, 90 percent of Africa was still controlled by African people. Ten years later, the colonial era was officially consolidated. In 1884-5, without a single African present, the heads of European governments sat in a conference in Berlin for the sole purpose of carving up every inch of the African continent. The objective of this gathering was to parcel out all of Africa to Europeans to exploit its resources--human beings, gold, land, animals, rubber, iron, ivory, tourism, fishing, farming and, of course, diamonds.

The conference was a move on the part of the European powers to attempt to reduce conflict within Europe and inside European countries themselves by sharing the vast stolen loot of Africa. Every European country wanted a piece of Africa to elevate their standard of living, not just for the already wealthy, but also for the workers, who for the past 40 years had been in a state of rebellion for a greater share of the stolen loot of slavery and colonialism. Even the Catholic pope, the moral authority of Europe, gave his tacit blessing to the Berlin Conference and the plans to colonize all of Africa. All the imperialists had to do was defeat the powerful African resistance and then slaughter, subdue and enslave the Africans who survived. Multitudes of white people volunteered enthusiastically for that task.

Imperialist diamond magnate Cecil Rhodes was passionate about colonialism as a solution for the English masses. He once wrote, "I was in the East End of London yesterday and attended a meeting of the unemployed. I listened to the wild speeches, which were just a cry for 'bread, bread!' and on my way home I pondered over the scene and I became more than ever convinced of the importance of imperialism. My cherished idea is a solution for the social problem, i.e., in order to save the 40 million inhabitants of the United Kingdom from a bloody civil war, we colonial statesmen must acquire new lands to settle the surplus population, to provide new markets for the goods produced in the factories and mines. The empire, as I have always said, is a bread and butter question. If you want to avoid civil war, you must become imperialists."


Ambitious to consolidate British imperialism in Southern Africa, Rhodes set out for Zimbabwe in 1886, where gold was thought to have been discovered. The Shona and Matabele people launched a fierce resistance to defend their lands from Rhodes' invasion.

Rhodes recruited hundreds of British men into an army that he organized to defeat the Matabele and Shona. With the use of just four Maxim machine guns, Rhodes's army slaughtered more than 5,000 African people in one engagement alone. As payment, each of Rhodes' 672 solders were given 6,000 acres of land in what would be known as the colony of Rhodesia for the next hundred years.

Similar stories played out all over Africa, as African people fought desperately for their land, independence, culture and dignity. Europeans overpowered them with machine guns, cannons, concentration camps and the theft or destruction of the resources needed for life.

Today there are diamond mines in the Congo that are highly profitable for imperialism, but Belgium's King Leopold did not know that in the 1890s when he was colonizing African people there. Leopold was interested in rubber, an increasingly significant commodity, at the dawn of the automobile age. Africans in Congo resisted the Belgian invasion fiercely. The Chokwe people, for instance, fought for 20 years, inflicting heavy casualties on the Belgians. In order to force the Africans to harvest the rubber, the Belgians killed ten million people in the Congo. Women were rounded up, raped and held as hostages as an attempt to force men to work. Villages were burned. Children were kidnapped into concentration camps to be trained as soldiers for the Belgians. Men were chained at the neck and used as beasts of burden until they dropped dead.

The signature mark of Belgian conquest in the Congo was the massive cutting off of the people's hands to force them to kneel down to colonial power. Men, women and children were mutilated in this way, and huge mounds of hands piled up throughout the land. One Belgian soldier wrote home that he had "killed 150 men, cut off 60 hands, crucified women and children, and hung the remains of mutilated men on the village fence."

The profits were excellent however. The Anglo-Belgian India Rubber and Exploration Company reaped a profit of more than 700 percent as bicycles and automobiles in Europe and America were outfitted with rubber tires.


In Namibia today, alluvial diamonds are gathered from ships off the coast by Africans forced into near slave-like conditions. "Alluvial" means that the diamonds do not have to be mined, they can simply be picked up off the ground or from the water.

When the Germans colonized the land they called South West Africa at the turn of the twentieth century, they knew nothing of the diamonds. They made money from fishing, hunting and farmland, and saw their African colonies as their "place in the sun," hoping to eventually rival Britain's empire upon which "the sun never set." The Herero and Nama peoples rose up in 1904 and '07 to fight courageously against the German colonizers. With the backing of Deutsche Bank, Germany sent in General von Trotha with orders to exterminate the Africans.

Von Trotha declared: "Any Herero found within the German borders [sic] with or without a gun, with or without cattle, will be shot. I shall no longer receive any women or children; I will drive them back to their people. I will shoot them. This is my decision for the Herero people." Von Trotha was true to his word, even as the Herero were careful in their resistance to spare German women, children and missionaries. The Germans machined-gunned the Herero people of all ages, poisoned their wells, killed their cattle, ran human experiments on them and rounded them up in the Kalahari Desert to die slow, torturous deaths without food, water or shelter. Eighty percent of the Herero were killed and half of the Nama.

Namibia today has only 1.8 million people in an area bigger than Texas, one of the smallest populations in the world. It is a chilling irony that websites for Namibian tourism targeting Europeans promote its sparse population as one of the country's selling points. When Africans throughout Africa were being slaughtered by the millions a century ago, when countless Africans died during the middle passage of the slave trade, and when hundreds of millions of Indigenous people were wiped out in the Americas, there was no word for "genocide."

Genocide, as a crime against humanity, as a moral and legal concept in the consciousness of Europeans, was only invented following the second world war after white people had inflicted mass murder on other white people. When the Germans were slaughtering Africans in Namibia, Jews were good Germans, happily enjoying the benefits of German colonialism. It is telling that General von Trotha's wife, Lucy Goldstein von Trotha, was Jewish.

The survivors of the Herero people have filed a $4 billion lawsuit against the German government and corporations as reparations for genocide. And though the Germans have paid over $100 billion to the Israeli government and Jewish people as reparations, they scoff at the Herero people's demands.


Cecil Rhodes named his Kimberley diamond mines DeBeers, after the farmer who had previously colonized the land. In 1888, he formed the DeBeers Consolidated Mines, a diamond cartel. This means that he sought to control the entire world market for diamonds. He bought up all other diamond mines in southern Africa, restricted supply, and raised prices.

When Rhodes was alive, the diamonds at Kimberley were still alluvial. Africans, enslaved on their own land, had tin cans tied around their necks, and were lined up and forced at gunpoint to get down on their hands and knees to pick up the diamonds and put them into the cans. After the death of Rhodes, the German Jew Ernest Oppenheimer took over the ownership of DeBeers in the 1920s, and it has remained in the control of his family ever since. Today DeBeers is a multi-billion dollar operation that acts like a state power with armies of its own.

DeBeers and the Oppenheimer family are the real reigning power behind South Africa. DeBeers was the driving force behind the setting up of apartheid and the system that violently forced African people off their land in order to create the workforce for the mines in highly profitable slave-like conditions. He pushed for multiple taxes to be imposed on the people to drive them into the mines to earn money to pay them. DeBeers backed the pass laws and the concentration camp-like conditions for the mine workers who were virtually imprisoned for months, working at least 60 hours a week, and forced to sleep out in the open with no protection from the weather. For every 10-hour shift, Africans were given a crust of bread and a flask of cold tea. They were housed in bunkers with 20 men to a room and forced to eat out of aluminum buckets. If an African worker somehow managed to scrape together the means to buy a car or house, he was arrested on suspicion of stealing diamonds.

DeBeers and South Africa were forced to end the apartheid system only when the armed mass African liberation movement made it necessary, as a means of saving imperialism.


Life for African diamond workers today has changed very little. In the past few years, DeBeers has slashed the wages of South African mineworkers. They now live in the shanty towns that have burgeoned in South Africa since the fall of the apartheid system and the rise of neocolonialism, the system in which white imperialist power installs indigenous puppets as its front in Africa and other former colonies. African men are still stuffed into compounds and ramshackle huts near the mines, while African women who work as cleaners must stay in the women's barracks. If a husband and wife are found sleeping together, they are fired.

In Namibia, the unionized diamond workers live in abject poverty in hovels without running water, electricity, health care or education for their children. The men live in compounds separated from their families. They are given bunk beds without mattresses to sleep in and are exposed to radiation and other health hazards.

In the past century since the genocidal Belgian colonialism in Congo, African people have been subjected to ongoing war, bloodshed and powerlessness. The poverty is so severe that most African people have nothing to eat for days at a time.

Yet Congo alone holds immeasurable wealth from diamonds, coltan and a wide variety of other valuable minerals essential to the daily functioning of the capitalist world. By all rights, every single resident of the Congo should enjoy the highest standard of living in the world. Every child should grow up in a prosperous family with a lovely house, with access to the highest quality education and the best possible health care.

In the past 10 years, proxy wars financed and backed by the U.S. and other imperialist powers, including DeBeers, have ravaged the Congo to get or maintain control of its bountiful resources whose benefits never reach the average African person. Five million people in the Congo have been slaughtered in these wars so that life in the white world can go on in peaceful, prosperous, hi-tech tranquility. No one in America protests this new generation of genocide in the Congo. No one even talks about it. Most of Africa is blessed with a profuse wealth of natural resources. Yet half the people in diamond-rich West Africa live on less than a dollar a day and have the lowest life expectancy at birth in the world. In 10 countries in Africa, the life expectancy is 46 years. Sierra Leone has the highest infant mortality rate in the world with 284 deaths per every thousand live births.


In the late 1950s, Kwame Nkrumah became the first elected president of Ghana. With the supposed ousting of British colonial control, Nkrumah pursued his ideals of attempting to eliminate all the imperialist-imposed borders, and to create one continental African nation, which would work for the benefit of each and every African. As in most of colonial Africa, centuries of expropriation by colonial powers left the nominally independent nations without an industrial infrastructure to process resources. Nkrumah began to talk about nationalizing Ghana's resources and building its own production capabilities. In the few short years of his power, he made enormous strides in this direction.

In the early sixties, Nkrumah decided to begin to market Ghana's diamonds independently, rather than through the process demanded by the DeBeers cartel, with the objective of using diamond profits to develop the country. He also did not want to sell diamonds to the DeBeers because of its history of apartheid in South Africa. Not long after Nkrumah began taking steps towards this end, the U.S. attempted a failed coup against him. In 1966, the U.S. was finally successful in ousting Nkrumah and he died in exile.


A major player immediately involved in the coup attempts against Nkrumah was CIA operative and DeBeers emissary Maurice Tempelsman (who was romantically linked with Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis until her death and is today linked with the former Secretary of State Madeline Albright). Following the first unsuccessful coup attempt against Nkrumah, the popular young anti-colonial leader Patrice Lumumba was elected prime minister in Congo. Like Nkrumah, Lumumba was committed to his promise that the resources of Congo would benefit the workers and peasants.

During this period Congo was very important to DeBeers, because a third of the world's known diamond supply was located there. This was during the Cold War and the U.S. was stockpiling industrial diamonds needed for airplanes and armaments.

The U.S. could not deal directly with DeBeers because they had indicted the diamond cartel during the second world war for violating U.S. anti-trust laws. Maurice Tempelsman became the middleman for DeBeers, supplying millions of dollars worth of diamonds to the U.S. from Congolese mines on the behalf of the company. But as soon as the courageous and much-loved Lumumba took office in 1960, he made it clear that Congo's resources were for African people. Tempelsman immediately began working under the Kennedy administration to plot the U.S. and Belgian assassination of Lumumba, which took place in January 1961, just months after his election.


Much is being written these days about "corruption" among the African ruling elite being the cause of Africa's problems today. The reality is that the African politicians are simply doing what they were set up to do-maintain imperialist financial interests - regardless of the cost to the people. These are the neocolonialists and they are paid quite well.

After the murder of Patrice Lumumba, Tempelsman secured a diamond deal with Congo that was extremely lucrative for both the U.S. and DeBeers. It also allowed him to end up with control of several profitable mines, while giving some of the biggest, most valuable diamonds in the world to Joseph Mobutu, the pliable new puppet who would brutally do the bidding of U.S. imperialism in Congo for the next 30 years.

Despite the fact that Lumumba was only in power three months, his leadership had sparked the enthusiasm of the masses of the people, and instilled in them the confidence that they could begin to control their own destiny as African people on their own land. For many years following the assassination of Lumumba, Congo (known as Zaire under Mobutu) was in a state of mass rebellion. Well-organized resistance fighters held liberated territory in some areas, prompting Che Guevara to take a brigade of Cuban revolutionaries to join the struggle there. It took all of Mobutu's military force and a reign of terror to subdue the peoples' resistance. Mobutu's forces were trained, armed and paid for by the U.S., with the CIA operating both openly and covertly throughout the country, often with its own mercenary forces.

As a U.S. puppet, Mobutu was vicious to those who challenged him. He was known to gouge out the eyes of opposition leaders or cut off their limbs while they were still alive. He tortured and locked up hundreds of thousands of African working people and students.

Mobutu was paid well for his terror, raiding the coffers of the country and amassing nearly $5 billion, which he stashed in Swiss banks, while the African masses starved and suffered. The fact that the Western powers would allow Mobutu to expropriate $5 billion gives us an inkling of how much the resources of the Congo are worth to imperialism. Neocolonialism is the way that the U.S. keeps its control over the resources of the world while hiding behind handpicked leaders from the colonial people.

When Nelson Mandela was elected president of South Africa, signaling the end of the apartheid era, he was heralded by the media as a beacon of justice. But to the African People's Socialist Party and the Uhuru Movement, it was always clear that Mandela was nothing but another neocolonial puppet working for the interests of the imperial powers.

Today, years after the end of apartheid in South Africa, 40 percent of Africans in the cities are unemployed and 70 percent in rural areas. Sixty-one percent now live below the poverty level, while only about one percent of whites live in poverty. Ninety-six percent of arable commercial land is still in the hands of white farmers.

Mandela is on record with a public statement in support of DeBeers, emphasizing that the diamond industry is "good for South Africa." When DeBeers Chairman Harry Oppenheimer died in 2000 and the reigns were passed to his son Nicky, Mandela wrote Harry's obituary in Time Magazine, hailing Oppenheimer as "monumentally instrumental in helping our country become the economic leader it is today."


A British colony since the late 18th century, Sierra Leone is rich in coffee, bauxite and diamonds, which were found there in 1930. By 1937, one million carats had been extracted and exported to Europe. In fact, between 1937 and 1996, $15 billion worth of diamonds have been exported and sold from Sierra Leone - yet the people of Sierra Leone live on about 30 cents a day.

The DeBeers group of diamond companies have controlled the diamond interests of Sierra Leone since 1935. Sierra Leone was granted nominal independence in 1961. Ten years later Sierra Leone nationalized the diamond mines-again nominally. Since DeBeers controls the world diamond market, the national diamond industry of Sierra Leone still had to sell its diamonds through DeBeers.

Since the 1970s, rebel armies, most of them backed by the U.S. or other European powers, have fought for control of Sierra Leone. Since the 1990s, rebel armies have inflicted terroristic violence against the people of Sierra Leone, cutting off limbs, raping women, killing and displacing thousands and forcing tens of thousand of young children to fight as soldiers. During this period the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) took over some of the diamond mines and used smuggled diamonds to fund their violence. Although the actions of the RUF are no different than the hundred year legacy of DeBeers' violence against African people, DeBeers calls these the "blood" diamonds-i.e., diamonds they can't control.


The U.S. most certainly did. It enabled them to flood the diamond market and to poke holes in the long-standing diamond monopoly held by DeBeers, which even the U.S. had never successfully controlled. It destabilized the entire West Africa region, making it difficult for any genuinely progressive force to rise up in the interest of the people. The diamond wars left West Africa wide open for another long orgy of Western expropriation of all of Africa's vast resources.

Today the DeBeers cartel still controls at least 80 percent of the world diamond trade - the other 20 percent are the ones they call "blood" diamonds.

It would be very difficult to calculate the total wealth of DeBeers because of its worldwide holdings on a multitude of fronts. The diamond trade makes huge profits in the U.S., Israel, Belgium and South Africa, with hundreds of thousands of lucrative jobs and spin-off businesses that overwhelmingly benefit white owners and employees.

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