September 5, 2002

South Africa would like compensation for the Cullinan diamond

Posted at 8:08 am in Similar cases

The Cullinan diamond, was before cutting, the largest diamond ever discovered. It was mined in South africa, but ended up in the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London. South Africa thinks however that it is due some form of compensation for the vast sums of money that Britain has taken from people viewing the crown jewels, which contain the diamonds cut from the Cullinan.

The Natal Witness

Share the Star of Africa
SA diamonds could help UK contribute to Nepad

The Honourable the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland,

Mr Tony Blair M.P.,
10 Downing Street,
United Kingdom

Dear Prime Minister,

South Africa was recently collectively moved by a gesture of goodwill when the body of a Khoisan woman, Sarah Baartman, a victim of colonial exploitation, who had been put on public display in Europe both during her lifetime and afterwards since the 19th century, was returned from France to her rightful home and at last accorded a burial of dignity and respect.

Greece, in its quest to secure the return of the Parthenon marbles, which the British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Lord Elgin, during the period 1801 to 1810, had stripped from the Acropolis and transported to England, has not as yet enjoyed the same success in attaining the return of its stolen national treasure to Athens.

Africa, and southern Africa in particular, Mr Prime Minister, as you well know, is in dire need, and people in their thousands are dying of starvation and the HIV/Aids pandemic.

Millions more deaths, some due to crop failures and drought, others because of ignorance and lack of medical resources, and in Zimbabwe mainly because of government tyranny, mismanagement and official corruption, are within sight.

And yet, in the face of all this anticipated calamity, our president, Thabo Mbeki, in collaboration with other African leaders, has put forward a plan to rescue Africa from its current plight and put it on the road to future stability and prosperity. Dubbed Nepad (New Partnership for African Development), it encompasses a bold and progressive programme involving substantial financial and technical input from the wealthy nations of the north, and democracy, financial prudence and good governance from the African countries. This plan was outlined in detail very recently at the Canadian G8 summit and all reports indicate that it was accepted in principle by all eight of the world’s wealthiest nations.

I must admit to feeling a twinge of cynicism when noting how powerful countries such as France, the United States and Japan promise support for an ailing Africa while continuing to strangle it through their perverse and selfish policies of agricultural subsidies, thus effectively barring the poorer countries from their markets. Because of massive French subsidies on cheese for instance, until intervention by our government recently, French cheeses could be found in our supermarkets at retail prices less than that at which our farmers could produce, let alone sell!

Be that as it may, I believe that it is in the hands of your government and the United Kingdom to play a critical role in the success or failure of Nepad.

Allow me to explain.

There is a South African treasure, its incandescent beauty almost beyond description and worth uncalculated billions, which is in the possession of your country and permanently on display in the Tower of London. These are the stones cut from the Cullinan diamond, virtually flawless, limpid in colour, clear as the purest water, which was found at the Premier Mine outside Pretoria on January 25, 1905. In its original form this fabulous stone weighed 3 106,75 carats, the largest diamond ever discovered.

This was at a time that the Boer Republics were struggling to regain their political independence, which, together with control of the world’s richest gold mining industry, they had lost in the Anglo-Boer War.

The Boer leaders, generals Louis Botha and Jan Smuts, were passionately anxious to bring to an end the anglicising grip of Alfred, Lord Milner on the province and sought the support of the king and Henry Campbell Bannerman, the Liberal prime minister in this campaign.

It was Louis Botha who proposed the purchase of the Cullinan diamond as a 66th birthday gift for King Edward VII, and it was acquired for about one million U.S. dollars.

To cut a long story very short, the outcome was that the king received a centrepiece for his sceptre and for his crown, Mr Cullinan, the mine owner, became Sir Thomas and Botha achieved the liberal constitution he and Smuts sought.

Nine major stones were cut, the Star of Africa, for the sceptre, Cullinan 11 for the crown and seven other amazing stones, together with 96 incidental stones nearly all of which were incorporated into the crown jewels.

All of these stones are currently on display in the Tower of London and about six to 10 million people each year pay some £14.50 each for the privilege of visiting that wonderful museum and viewing the jewels.

What we have all long forgotten, however, is that Botha and Smuts were definitely not acting with the authority and support of all South Africans in the making of these unprecedented donations. No black South African was consulted. No black South African benefited. No South African of any colour outside the confines of the old Transvaal was consulted. This was simply the act of two politicians pursuing their own goal.

But Britain over the decades has made a fortune out of this extravagant act of less than properly sanctioned generosity.

In truth, I believe that these jewels belong back in the country of their origin.

But, Mr Prime Minister, if you believe that the return of the diamonds is both a practical and political impossibility, then perhaps a look at the economic possibilities would be useful.

Tourists entering the Tower of London and viewing the jewels annually produce an income of almost certainly not less than £116 million. If five pounds of the entrance fee for each person were diverted by your government to Nepad as part of Great Britain’s contribution to the recovery of Africa, the income should amount to about £40 million (or, in South African terms, about R640 million per year.) Let us not forget that the current worth of these jewels, actually worn and carried in public only once in a generation, is in excess of $10 billion.

Do you not believe, Mr Prime Minister, that a gesture of this sort by the United Kingdom to show practical solidarity with Africa and its aspirations would represent both life-saving generosity and justice as well?

Is it not time for the United Kingdom to share the Star of Africa with Africa?

Yours most sincerely,

David Dalling is a retired ANC MP.
Publish Date: 5 September 2002

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