There was much pomp and cheering about the recent discovery of a 1,111 carat diamond in Botswana. Named “Lesedi La Rona” (Our Light), it is by far the largest found since 1905.
The diamond magnates, Lucara, expected the stock market bells to ring millions of dollars as they offer it to the highest bidder.
For some this diamond has a special significance, not in the money but the pride. They would have kept the stone in Botswana for posterity and to attract tourists.
The workers who brought this stone from the ground added the real value and have little reason to celebrate.
The working environment in mining is repressive and jealously guarded by pro-business labour laws.
Harassment, persecution and dismissals of union leaders are common.
For the Boteti communities whose land Lucara is scraping dry, the excitement rings hollow too. They live in poverty and despair.
There are hardly any jobs and many people depend on government drought relief.
Africa is a rich continent, but its people remain poor because of plunder by Western multinationals and the wretched cycle of capitalist accumulation.
It has enormous natural resources—such as diamonds, copper, gold, coal and uranium.
These resources find their way back to rich, developed countries where they are processed to add value and exported back as finished products.
Botswana’s celebrated economic prosperity and liberal democracy is rooted in mining extraction and exploitation. It has been more of a curse than a solution.
The national bourgeoisie, the multinationals and the government are the main beneficiaries—not the ordinary people who sweat and toil to dig the diamonds.
The well-known case of the indigenous San people, who were forced from their ancestral lands for Gem Diamonds, is an historic sore on Botswana’s democracy.
Diamond mining’s high reliance on capital means it has created very few jobs while churning out billions in revenue. To maximise profits jobs have been cut, and in a repressive work environment strikes are not tolerated.
The government is in partnership with DeBeers, founded by notorious colonialist Cecil Rhodes, to mine diamonds—and perpetuate his legacy of exploitation.
Their joint venture Debswana fired over 461 miners in 2004 for asking for better pay, while the bosses pocketed enormous bonuses.
The government stood firm in support of its business partner. It then dawned on the workers that they are on their own.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Botswana’s independence—a milestone journey from British imperialism.
But power was transferred from a civilian leader to military general Ian Khama in 2008. And, since the establishment of his feared secret service, life has taken a turn for the worse.
Journalists, lawyers, judges and opposition activists have been persecuted.
Extra-judicial killings have seen people shot and their killers later pardoned.
There is light at the end of the tunnel because oppression and exploitation breeds consciousness.
In the last general election the ruling party lost ground to the opposition.
The rebellion was partly out of anger following the mysterious death of an opposition leader.
Could Lesedi La Rona be the political light that ushers in revolutionary change?