By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer
Miners in Lunda Norte, Angola, found a 170-carat pink diamond. Other diamonds are much larger, but pink diamonds are incredibly rare. Africa had a diamond and gold rush in the 19th century.
Only one in 10,000 diamonds are pink. The owners of the Lulo alluvial diamond mine have found a big one. Miners recovered a 170-carat pink diamond from a river bed in the Lunda Norte region of Angola, in West Africa. The Lucapa Diamond Company, the owners of the mine, expressed their excitement and siad that the find could mean that a source of diamonds is nearby.
Much like the gold rushes in California in 1849 and in the Yukon in 1898, Africa is no stranger to mineral rushes. Two such rushes swept South Africa in the 19th century—a diamond rush and a gold rush in 1867 and 1886, respectively. In his video series The African Experience: From “Lucy” to Mandela, Dr. Kenneth P. Vickery, Associate Professor in the History Department at North Carolina State University, recalled this “Mineral Revolution.”
Rush to Kimberley
In 1867, the inconspicuous town of Kimberley, South Africa, exploded overnight after the world’s largest diamond deposits were discovered there.
“In a classic mineral rush […] it goes something like this: The word spreads fast,” Dr. Vickery said. “Lots of people (mostly, but not exclusively, males) pour into the area where the finds have been made. There’s lots of furious searching, clawing, panning, and digging for these hoped-for riches during the day; at night, there’s generally lots of drinking and fighting.
“A few people strike it rich; most don’t. Everybody leaves and a ghost town is left behind.”
What set Kimberley apart from a classic mineral rush is that there was no mass exodus or remaining ghost town. People stayed, and the event transformed from a diamond rush to a modern, deep-level mining industry. Thousands of diggers came from literally all over the world and worked small, separate claims.
Flooding the Market
“As more and more diamonds are being discovered, just as the costs and dangers are going up, the price of them is falling as more are coming onto the market,” Dr. Vickery said. “The solution, if a viable diamond industry was to survive, was to control the output of diamonds onto the market—to control the scarcity factor—and to attract the huge capital investment necessary to finance up-to-date mining technology and a large mine-labor force.”
A now famous South African named Cecil John Rhodes found his way to Kimberley and established De Beers to control the output of diamonds onto the world market. Rhodes became Prime Minister of the Cape Colony in 1890 and eventually extended the British Empire north from South Africa to the areas named after him: Northern and Southern Rhodesia.
Kimberley also gave rise to the “closed compound” after Rhodes and his ilk realized diamond theft could occur by workers.
“By housing and feeding the mineworkers in an enclosed space with restricted access and egress, not only could they be marched there to start the shift, at the close of a shift, the first place they could go was into the so-called holding rooms, where they could be […] given full-body searches in order to get a handle and control on this problem of so-called ‘illicit diamond buying.'”
The diamond industry affected South Africa in ways that still persevere. However, the discovery of gold in Johannesburg 20 years later dwarfed the diamond rush.
The African Experience: From “Lucy” to Mandela is now available to stream on Wondrium.