According to Shimansky’s History of Diamonds in South Africa the global history of diamonds dates back around 3.3 billion years, but diamonds were only discovered in Africa in 1867.
South Africa’s first diamond was discovered on the banks of the Orange River near Hopetown by a 15-year-old boy named Erasmus Jacobs who was playing on his father’s farm when a transparent rock caught his eye. That diamond was later called ‘Eureka’.
Africa is rich in Diamond
Africa is the world’s largest producer of diamonds, producing nearly 50% of global production. Africa has produced over 75% – in value – of the world’s diamonds with more than 1.9 Billion carats worth an estimated US$158 Billion mined. Botswana, South Africa, and Namibia are the world’s three top producers of mined diamonds.
In 2015, the largest gem quality rough diamond in over 100 years, was discovered at the Lucara Karowe mine in north-central Botswana. The hypnotic Lesedi La Rona weighing 1,109 carats (formerly known in media as Karowe AK6 or as Quad 1) was acquired in 2017 and from it the largest square emerald-cut diamond in the world was unveiled.
Diamond trade contributes approximately US$7.6 billion per year to Africa.
In Botswana, Diamonds account for 71% of the country’s export revenue, 16% of the government revenue and 16% of its gross domestic product (GDP). The Jwaneng and the Orapa diamond mines in Botswana rank as the 1st and 2nd biggest diamond mines in the world. The total estimated diamond by carats to be produced by Botswana this year is about 24 Million carats.
South Africa has seven diamond producing mines of which Venetia, jointly owned by De Beers, is the largest. In 2014, South Africa produced 7.4 million carats worth $1.22 billion, making it the world’s fifth largest diamond producer by value, according to Kimberley Process figures. In 2015, South Africa produced an estimated 10 million carats and is the second largest diamond producing country in Africa.
In Namibia, diamonds represent approximately 21% of GDP, 48% of export revenue and 59% of the Nambian government’s annual revenue.
It’s a ‘big, shiny’ industry
In 2017, global purchases of imported diamond totalled US$117.3 billion. The top 15 countries that imported the highest dollar value worth of diamonds in 2017 accounted for about 97% of total import value. The top 15 countries are:
|COUNTRY||IMPORT DOLLAR VALUE (US$)||% of TOTAL DIAMOND IMPORTS|
|1.||United States||23.2 Billion||19.8|
|3.||Hong Kong||20.6 Billion||17.5|
|5.||United Arab Emirates||8.4 Billion||7.1|
|9.||United Kingdom||2.4 Billion||2.1|
Smaller percentages were delivered to Africa (1.5%), Oceania (0.4%) and Latin America excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean (0.1%).
Funding Economic Growth – the Botswana Example
In the midst of corruption and mismanagement of revenue from export of natural resources in other African countries, Botswana is regarded as a model in many respects when it comes to channelling profits from the export of its diamonds back into the country’s growth. 75% of the country’s foreign exchange revenue comes from the sale of rough diamonds.
To ensure economic opportunities and benefits from diamonds within the country Botswana tries to keep the processing and other aspects of the value chain – drilling, dividing, cutting, and polishing – in the country for as long as possible. This used to be done in Antwerp, Belgium, until a couple of years ago, but is still the case with other African diamond producers.
Botswana continues to avail the revenue from diamonds for many social programs including free education and free healthcare, as well as infrastructure development projects across the country. Botswana has one of the strongest economies in Africa, and also has the highest GDP/person in Africa.