DIAMOND in SOUTH AFRICA
Dry Diggings (end)
Exchange rate between the old and present value is: £1 = US$140.
In this way the price of perfectly colourless stones of the first water has not fallen in consequence of the discovery of the Cape diamond-fields, but is as high as ever it was. The price of yellow or yellowish stones of 10 to 150 carats in weight is, on the contrary, much lower. To such stones Tavernier's old rule, according to which the value varied with the square of the weight, is inapplicable, the price of such stones now varies directly with the weight; sometimes, however, it is in a still lower proportion, so that when the weight of a stone is doubled the price is not always necessarily doubled.
Naturally some considerable time must elapse before prices adjust themselves to new and unknown conditions. Thus, for the first large stones found at the Cape a price in consonance with Tavernier's rule was demanded; such prices were seen to be too high and soon regulated to accord with the changed conditions. As early as 1876 rough Cape white stones of good quality, and up to 6 carats in weight, had fallen in value from 30 to 50 per cent, the largest and smallest stones having suffered the greatest depreciation. It should be borne in mind, however, that these Cape whites were not quite equal in quality to the white Brazilian stones. The discovery of the Cape diamond-fields caused a still greater depreciation in the value of bort, the price of this material having in 1873 fallen 85 per cent; in 1876, however, the depreciation in the price of bort was only 70 per cent, and it continued to rise in value owing to its increasing application for technical purposes.
The price of diamonds at the Cape, as elsewhere, depends not only on the quality of the stones but also on the conditions of supply and demand, and varies from day to day. According to the statements of E. Cohen, the price of bort varied from 1875 to 1880 between 1s. 9d. and 5s. 8d. per carat; for Cape whites, of 2 to 6 carats in weight, between £3 15s. and £7 l0s. per carat, and for fragments of 1 to 2 carats, between 8s. and 24s. per carat.
According to the estimate of Anton Petersen, as quoted by E. Cohen, the following prices for rough stones were in 1882 paid at the mines:
These prices, which are exceptionally low, were current only on the Cape diamond-fields and not in the European markets, one market being perhaps influenced by circumstances, which do not affect the other.
In the following table is given the average value per carat, calculated from the weight and value of the total export during the years 1883 to 1891:
It will be readily understood that with objects like diamonds, so costly and, yet at the same time, so easily hidden, there are possibilities for very considerable illicit trade. Those engaged in the mining, washing, and sorting of diamonds, especially the Kaffirs, constantly find opportunities for secreting stones, in spite of the strict supervision to which they are subjected. Although the mining employees each time they leave work have to undergo a rigorous personal search, yet diamond are continually being smuggled through and placed on the market by illicit diamond buyers. It is estimated that 30 per cent of the total output is thus diverted into illegitimate channels.
The strictest of laws and regulations have from time to time been devised and rigidly enforced with the object of suppressing theft of, and illicit trade in, diamonds. Thus a man convicted of diamond stealing or illicit diamond buying was sentenced to several years of penal servitude; under no circumstances were natives allowed to sell stones, and white men were obliged to procure a written licence before engaging in the trade of buying and selling diamonds, and to submit for the inspection of the authorities a properly kept register of all transactions. The difficulty of obtaining witnesses, and therefore of convicting a person of an illicit transaction, made the enforcement of these and similar regulations somewhat of a dead letter; moreover, the profit attending an illicit transaction successfully carried out was so large that the risk of conviction failed to act as a deterrent. Since March 1, 1883, still more stringent regulations have been in force; a person suspected of, and charged with, the illicit possession of diamonds, must defend him self against the charge by furnishing a satisfactory explanation of the circumstances leading to his arrest. Moreover, search warrants ware now granted in the case of white men as well as of natives.
These regulations are in force not only in the diamond-fields but also in the whole of Cape Colony, and they were also adopted in the Orange Free State. The illicit trade has, therefore, been checked, but not altogether stamped out. The cunning and ingenuity shown by Kaffirs in concealing and disposing of stolen stones is unexampled. As an illustration we may quote the case of a native who, in 1888, was suspected of being in the unlawful possession of diamonds. On the approach of his pursuers he shot one of his oxen with a rifle loaded with the stolen stones, and after the police had made an unsuccessful search he extracted the diamonds from the dead body of the ox. In the same year another native, who died in a mysterious manner, was discovered to have swallowed a 60-carat diamond, which proved itself too much for the constitution even of a Kaffir.
The introduction of the compound system has resulted in making the robbery of diamonds by natives almost impossibility. The native workers in the De Beer's and Kimberley mines, among whom representatives of almost every South African tribe are to be found, live in what is known as a compound, and are debarred from all intercourse with the outside world. This compound is a rigidly guarded enclosure, several acres in extent, in which all the necessaries of life can be purchased as well as other objects especially attractive to the native taste. Water, wood, and medical attendance are supplied to the workers gratuitously, and no effort is spared to make their enforced stay as little irksome as possible. On entering the employment of the company the native contracts to stay for at least three months, during which time he sees no one but the officers of the company at the end of this time he may renew his contract or terminate the engagement. Before leaving the compound, however, an exhaustive search of his person and belongings is made, and he has further to submit to the administering of a strong purgative. In spite of the restrictions by which life in the compound is hedged in, and the absolute prohibition laid on the sale of intoxicating liquors, the workers are by no means averse to the system, and often renew their contracts again and again. It has been found; moreover that the system reduced the possibility of fraud to a minimum.
Rafal Swiecki, geological engineer email contact
This document is in the public domain.