The Case of the Disappearing Diamonds

The Case of the Disappearing Diamonds

Ask a question about 'The Case of the Disappearing Diamonds'
Start a new discussion about 'The Case of the Disappearing Diamonds'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
The Case of the Disappearing Diamonds is a World in Action
World in Action
World in Action was a British investigative current affairs programme made by Granada Television from 1963 until 1998. Its campaigning journalism frequently had a major impact on events of the day. Its production teams often took audacious risks and gained a solid reputation for its often...

 documentary film
Documentary film
Documentary films constitute a broad category of nonfictional motion pictures intended to document some aspect of reality, primarily for the purposes of instruction or maintaining a historical record...

 which reported on how billions of pounds-worth of gem diamonds
Diamond (gemstone)
A diamond is one of the best-known and most sought-after gemstones...

 were stripped from South West Africa
South West Africa
South-West Africa was the name that was used for the modern day Republic of Namibia during the earlier eras when the territory was controlled by the German Empire and later by South Africa....

Namibia, officially the Republic of Namibia , is a country in southern Africa whose western border is the Atlantic Ocean. It shares land borders with Angola and Zambia to the north, Botswana to the east and South Africa to the south and east. It gained independence from South Africa on 21 March...

) over a 20-year period by the world's largest diamond mining company. It was broadcast by Thames Television
Thames Television
Thames Television was a licensee of the British ITV television network, covering London and parts of the surrounding counties on weekdays from 30 July 1968 until 31 December 1992....

 on 28 September 1987 After the First World War, Ernest Oppenheimer
Ernest Oppenheimer
Sir Ernest Oppenheimer was a diamond and gold mining entrepreneur, financier and philanthropist, who controlled De Beers and founded the Anglo American Corporation of South Africa.-Career:...

 held the monopoly over the mining and sale of South West African diamonds, and formed Consolidated Diamond Mines (CDM) which was owned by De Beers
De Beers
De Beers is a family of companies that dominate the diamond, diamond mining, diamond trading and industrial diamond manufacturing sectors. De Beers is active in every category of industrial diamond mining: open-pit, underground, large-scale alluvial, coastal and deep sea...



The voice-over
Voice-over is a production technique where a voice which is not part of the narrative is used in a radio, television production, filmmaking, theatre, or other presentations...

 narration begins:
Tonight we report on the dark side of the diamond industry. We show how one of the world's richest companies has been stripping one of the world's poorest nations of its main asset - diamonds from this mine. Namibia - a forgotten country long denied its independence. Here for 20 years, South Africa has ignored international law, occupied the land by force and refused to allow the formation of a democratic government. Behind the cover of a military occupation, Namibia has been robbed of its mineral wealth. Here a mining company has leased the world's largest diamond workings, taken £5 billion-worth of gems and paid a rent of £130 per year. At the mouth of the Orange River
Orange River
The Orange River , Gariep River, Groote River or Senqu River is the longest river in South Africa. It rises in the Drakensberg mountains in Lesotho, flowing westwards through South Africa to the Atlantic Ocean...

, an accident of geology
Geology is the science comprising the study of solid Earth, the rocks of which it is composed, and the processes by which it evolves. Geology gives insight into the history of the Earth, as it provides the primary evidence for plate tectonics, the evolutionary history of life, and past climates...

 and the sands of time has laid down one of nature's rarest gifts to mankind
Mankind may refer to:* The human species* Mankind , a 15th century morality play* Mankind , a 1998 massively multiplayer online real-time strategy game* Mankind , an album by Factory 81...

 - lonely beaches encrusted with the finest gem diamonds in the world. Released by volcanic activity inland, the diamonds were originally thrown into the Orange River, then over the centuries they were washed downstream and taken to the sea. Incoming tides put the finishing touches bringing the diamonds ashore.


In sequence, the following were interviewed in "The Case of the Disappearing Diamonds":

Martyn Marriott

Described as a Diamond Consultant, Mr Martyn Marriott, stated:
"It's well known they're the finest diamonds in the world - the highest quality, best colour, lovely diamonds. They are water-worn, thrown up into the beach and a very nice shape. They just happen to be good quality and good colour as well. The diamonds from Namibia are worth an average $200 per carat
Carat (mass)
The carat is a unit of mass equal to 200 mg and is used for measuring gemstones and pearls.The current definition, sometimes known as the metric carat, was adopted in 1907 at the Fourth General Conference on Weights and Measures, and soon afterward in many countries around the world...

 whereas the diamonds from Zaïre
The Republic of Zaire was the name of the present Democratic Republic of the Congo between 27 October 1971 and 17 May 1997. The name of Zaire derives from the , itself an adaptation of the Kongo word nzere or nzadi, or "the river that swallows all rivers".-Self-proclaimed Father of the Nation:In...

 would be worth $8 per carat."

Eric Lang

Businessman Eric Lang said:
"Successive Administrator-Generals allowed the mining companies to get away with exporting 20-25% of production without any control whatsoever."
Lang threatened to release Namibia's mineral statistics, to which countries they were being sold and at what prices. Lang said he believes that the plunder of his country's resources could lead to another famine in Africa, and that the people of Namibia had lost their equivalent of North Sea Oil
North Sea oil
North Sea oil is a mixture of hydrocarbons, comprising liquid oil and natural gas, produced from oil reservoirs beneath the North Sea.In the oil industry, the term "North Sea" often includes areas such as the Norwegian Sea and the area known as "West of Shetland", "the Atlantic Frontier" or "the...

 - what would have given them a secure future.
"Namibia's economy is extremely sick - the government consumes 75% of GDP to run the country which, today, is the second most indebted country on the African continent - from a debt-free nation seven years ago. The situation in Namibia could become far more serious than Angola
Angola, officially the Republic of Angola , is a country in south-central Africa bordered by Namibia on the south, the Democratic Republic of the Congo on the north, and Zambia on the east; its west coast is on the Atlantic Ocean with Luanda as its capital city...

 and Mozambique
Mozambique, officially the Republic of Mozambique , is a country in southeastern Africa bordered by the Indian Ocean to the east, Tanzania to the north, Malawi and Zambia to the northwest, Zimbabwe to the west and Swaziland and South Africa to the southwest...

. Without international aid, Namibia could turn into the Ethiopia
Ethiopia , officially known as the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, is a country located in the Horn of Africa. It is the second-most populous nation in Africa, with over 82 million inhabitants, and the tenth-largest by area, occupying 1,100,000 km2...

 of Southern Africa."

Gordon Brown

Former CDM manager, Gordon Brown, claimed that for 20 years De Beers had been stripping Namibia of its most precious asset - diamonds at Oranjemund
Oranjemund is a town of 4,000 inhabitants situated in the extreme southwest of Namibia, on the northern bank of the Orange River mouth. It exists to service the diamond industry....

"Overmining took place on the upper terraces and the 'N' blocks [in the upper terraces, blocks K, L, and M were rich in diamonds and the richest of all were the 'N' blocks] which were the series of beaches situated furthest from the sea. That's where the richest blocks were in terms of grade and stone size. There was a central block between the two major beaches that was of lower grade. That was left behind - the company concentrated on taking out the ore reserves furthest from the sea. That's not good mining practice. Proper mining practice calls for the average ore reserve grade and average stone size. I would liken this to a nice big cream cake, with a sponge cake below. Normally you would take out a slice at a time, but in the case of overmining the cream is completely scraped off the top."

John Shaedonhodi

A Namibian and a CDM worker, John Shaedonhodi, said he was concerned that a future independent Namibia would be impoverished.

Bernt Carlsson

The man responsible for Namibia under international law, Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and UN Commissioner for Namibia, Bernt Carlsson
Bernt Carlsson
Bernt Wilmar Carlsson was Assistant-Secretary-General of the United Nations and United Nations Commissioner for Namibia from July 1987 until he died on Pan Am Flight 103, which was blown up over Lockerbie, Scotland on 21 December 1988.-Social democrat:A native of Stockholm, Carlsson joined the...

, was asked about Namibia's diamonds:
"The corporation has been trying to skim the cream which means they have gone for the large diamonds at the expense of the steady pace. In this way they have really shortened the lifespan of the mines. One would expect from a worldwide corporation like De Beers and Anglo American that they would behave with an element of social and political responsibility. But their behaviour in the specific case of Namibia has been one of profit maximation regardless of its social, economic, political and even legal responsibility."

The United Nations Council for Namibia enacted in 1974 a Decree for the Protection of the Natural Resources of Namibia, under which no person or entity could search for, take or distribute any natural resources found in Namibia without the Council's permission. Any person or entity contravening the Decree could be held liable for damages by the future government of an independent Namibia. Companies like De Beers have ignored the law but now attitudes at the UN are beginning to harden:
"The United Nations this year [1987] in July started legal action against one such company - the Dutch company URENCO which imports uranium."

Will you be taking action against other companies such as De Beers?
"All the companies which are carrying out activities in Namibia which have not been authorised by the United Nations are being studied at present."

Thirion Report

The documentary referred to a wide-ranging investigation carried out by South African Judge Pieter Willem Thirion in 1982 into political corruption and the divisive tribal structures imposed on Namibia by the apartheid government. Judge Thirion extended his investigation into the behaviour of multinational mining companies in the former German colony and found: at one mine 420,000 tonnes of ore were sent out of the country as "geological samples"; at another, the state leased the mining rights to a businessman at £1,500 per year, who then reassigned them for an income of £650,000 per year; at the British owned Tsumeb mine, lead and copper were exported with undisclosed amounts of gold and silver; and the British South West Africa Company exported £7 million-worth of minerals without paying tax.

Judge Thirion focused upon the stewardship of the nation's principal economic resource - gem diamonds of the Atlantic beaches north of the Orange River. The Thirion Report's main findings were:
  1. There were no meaningful controls over Namibia's most important industry;
  2. The premises of the supposedly independent Diamond Board for South West Africa were provided by De Beers;
  3. All of the Board's agents were De Beers' employees;
  4. The entire costs of running the Board were met by De Beers as a tax deductible expense;
  5. Stanley Jackson, the Diamond Board Secretary, was also Secretary to Consolidated Diamond Mines.

The 350-page report found that De Beers had overmined the diamond reserves ahead of Namibia's independence:
The excessive depletion of the deposit was a preferential depletion of the more valuable deposits to the detriment of the low grade deposits, and therefore a breach of the provisions of Clause 3 of the Halbscheid Agreement. The probabilities are that the effect of the excessive depletion of the deposit will be to shorten the life of the mine and to detrimentally affect its profitability towards the end of its life.


Camera: Howard Somers;

Sound: David Woods;

Film Editors: Oral Ottey, John Rutherford;

Dubbing Mixer: John Whitworth;

Production Assistants: Adele McLoughlin, Judith Fraser;

Investigation by: Laurie Flynn and John Coates;

Editor: Stuart Prebble
Stuart Prebble
Stuart Prebble is a former CEO of ITV, Granada Sky Broadcasting and of ITV Digital.Educated at Newcastle University he was producer and editor of the World In Action current affairs series and went on to be Head of Factual Programmes at Granada TV and Controller of Factual Programmes for the ITV...


Executive Producer: Ray Fitzwalter;

Granada Television
Granada Television
Granada Television is the ITV contractor for North West England. Based in Manchester since its inception, it is the only surviving original ITA franchisee from 1954 and is ITV's most successful....