Picture: REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS

Illegal diamond mining in the Northern Cape exposes the major flaw in, and the superficial narrowness of, the Kimberley Process for the international diamond trade. Initiated from Kimberley in the early 2000s, the process is still, disappointingly, a work-in-progress that has failed to evolve over the past 17 years.

The process was implemented by the international diamond industry in 2003 after more than a decade of brutal civil wars, chiefly in Sierra Leone, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo, where rebels used “blood diamonds” (mined by military force in rebel-controlled areas) to fund their insurgency against recognised governments. Hence the 2002 definition of “conflict diamonds” — rough diamonds that finance wars against legitimate governments.

However, the problem with such initiatives, and other international efforts that choose to control the importing and exporting of such commodities rather than combating the illegal mining, is that they fail to see that they often fall into the hands of international criminal syndicates.

The syndicates see such controls as an opportunity, rather than a deterrent, and target countries where illegal mining controls are nonexistent, lax or a self-defeating populist debate. This, together with an abundance of potential, previously mined or currently exploited alluvial (fluvial) deposits, are the syndicates’ target specifications — their best friends.

SA has all these not just for diamonds, but for gold as well. SA is fertile ground for criminal syndicates, so it’s no wonder that we have a huge “Zama-Zama” illegal mining prevalence in the country. Compounding the problem in SA, and increasing the attractiveness to international criminal syndicates, is the fact that old mine dumps, old tailings and other mine residues are not controlled by the country’s primary mining legislation, the Mineral & Petroleum Resources Development Act.

The Kimberley Process and other international efforts thus provide the perfect camouflage for international criminal syndicates to operate in the country. The fluvial and mine residue deposits mentioned above, whether they contain diamonds or not, are washing machines that turn illegal diamonds into legal, Kimberley Process-approved diamonds.

Until the problem is seen in this context, and that controlling illegal mining or “conflict mining” should be the focus of the process and national efforts, the problem will continue to attract international criminal syndicates to SA.

John Mills
Kimberley