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1 Kadir van Lohuizen

Diamond Matters From the mines to the jet-set

Koidu, Sierra Leone

Introduction Diamond is carbon that has crystallised under intense pressure over a millions of years. These crystals may be thrown up during a volcanic eruption. Some land back inside the volcano. This forms so-called kimberlite: blue earth that contains diamonds. Other crystals spread out as a result of erosion and flowing water across a wide area, and can therefore be found immediately beneath the surface in river beds. In the 1990s I frequently worked as a photo journalist, reporting wars in Zaire (today’s Democratic Republic of Congo), Sierra Leone and Angola. These wars were often dismissed as tribal conflicts and a residue of the Cold War. However, it became increasingly clear that they were in fact struggles for raw materials. The Angolan and Sierra Leonean rebels controlled much of the diamond areas. They used the diamonds to raise funds to buy weapons. Governments also became involved in the hunt for gems. The term blood or conflict diamonds was born. Around that time I compiled a number of reports about the issue, although I was not able to show every aspect of the diamond trade without arousing the suspicions of the rebels and dealers. As various pressure groups sounded the alarm this began to effect the public perception of the trade. The industry found itself compelled to cooperate in implementing a certification system guaranteeing that only conflict-free diamonds would be traded. Public opinion and the potential damage to the diamond trade’s image forced most of the diamond importing and exporting countries to sign the Kimberley agreement in late 2002. This pact successfully reduced diamond smuggling and made the industry more publicly accountable. Today, since most of these African countries are now at peace, the origin of diamonds is less of an issue. In fact, working conditions are still shockingly bad. Despite enormous profits, little of this income reaches the population. Mining companies acquire huge concessions, allowing them to control the market, which robs local people of their livelihood. They are forced off their land with no or hardly any compensation. Moreover, digging for diamonds is all these people know; they have little or no skill as farmers. As a result, the local population does not benefit in any way from the wealth under their feet. Worse still, they are turned into outlaws. The social collapse is total. The alternative has to be ‘fair trade’ diamond industry. The industry is under pressure. For decades, De Beers, run by the Oppenheimer family, held a monopoly in the diamond market. They dictated the prices. But the world’s diamond stocks are more ample than was thought and the Israelis are emerging as powerful competitors. In the end, no one would benefit if the market were to collapse and prices tumbled, which could happen considering the huge potential supply. Supermarket chains and Internet traders already sell below market prices. Moreover, synthetic diamonds are now being made which are hardly distinguishable from the real thing. A year ago I decided together with the Netherlands Institute for Southern Africa and West Africa Witness to return to the same African countries and to follow the diamond trail all the way from the mines to the consumer. The result is a photo reportage that investigates where the money goes, the conditions in which people work, the traders, and who actually profits from this industry.

Bakwa Bowa, DR Congo

Koidu, Sierra Leone

Kadir van Lohuizen Amsterdam 2005 Miners on their way from Lucapa to Dundo, Angola

Bakwa Bowa, DR Congo

Bakwa Bowa, DR Congo


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Bakwa Bowa, DR Congo

Miners being baptised, MbujiMayi, DR Congo

Washing gravel, MbujiMayi, DR Congo

Koidu, Sierra Leone

Bula, Angola

Koidu, Sierra Leone

Koidu, Sierra Leone

Muangolongo, Angola

Sewa River, Sierra Leone

Muangolongo, Angola


3

Diving for diamonds in Cuango River, Angola

MbujiMayi, DR Congo

Lucapa, Angola

Sewa River, Sierra Leone

Sewa River, Sierra Leone

Kimberlite mine, MbujiMayi, DR Congo

Going home, Koidu, Sierra Leone

The Mines Thousands of people dig up the earth in this lunar landscape. Each mine employs between ten and fifty workers. They are not paid, but they get fed. First, metres of sand are excavated by hand, until they reach the gravel layer. This is where the diamonds are found. Mutual suspicion is rife: everyone watches each other. Everything is hoisted up the steep banks in bags and then sieved. The licensee keeps a sharp eye out lest anything of value disappear into a mouth, nose or other orifice. When they find something, the value is calculated immediately at the mine and everyone gets a share. In fact the value is still quite low and the number of shares is high. Agriculture is practically nonexistent here, since every piece of land might contain a valuable treasure. Large mining companies are increasingly buying up land. This makes the work easier to organise, but for the miners it means they have to leave the area, with hardly any compensation. They have no ground to farm, and even if they had, none of them know how. The landscape is turned upside down; rivers are diverted to enable the beds to be scooped out.

Bakwa Bowa, DR Congo

Kimberlite mine, MbujiMayi, DR Congo


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Mine-workers’ village that has been burned down, Bakwa Bowa, DR Congo

At a mine worker’s burial, MbujiMayi, DR Congo

Cafunfo, Angola

Diamond market, MbujiMayi, DR Congo

Diamond market, MbujiMayi, DR Congo

The Trade Diamonds found in the mine are generally brought to the open market in the centre of the city. At first sight, it looks like any other African market. But the piles on the table are diamonds, and dealers are busy weighing on scales and exchanging wads of cash. It is the small-scale dealers who buy at the mines and sell the diamonds here. The diamond offices on the main street are grubby affairs, often with a sideline (in fake Nike trainers) to augment their turnover. Many of these traders are also clergymen, which is a lucrative business. You set up your own church and then your loyal parishioners sell their diamonds to you. Everyone looks forward to the day they will strike it rich. If fortune smiles, you may one day walk out of the office with a hundred thousand dollars. Often this money is immediately invested in a new offroad vehicle and luxury clothes for him and her. The money soon evaporates and the search begins anew. The weight and value of what is bought and sold is officially recorded each day. Everything is noted down. This is necessary in order to obtain a Kimberley certificate. Of course a valuable stone may occasionally fall on the ground and disappear from the circuit.

Cafunfo, Angola

Diamond market, MbujiMayi, DR Congo


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Koidu, Sierra Leone

Diamond dealer, Cafunfo, Angola

Sorting diamonds, MbujiMayi, DR Congo

Cafunfo, Angola

MbujiMayi, DR Congo

MbujiMayi, DR Congo

Export and Trade The capital cities are the final trading stations before the gems leave the country. All roads lead here. The number of diamonds is huge, and the sums exchanged stupendous. Diamond dealer, MbujiMayi, DR Congo

To be allowed to export, a trader has to be meticulously correct. Weight, export value, everything has to be in order, and checked by an official at the certification office. The stones are rated according to the four c’s: colour, carat, clarity and cut. This determines the eventual value of the stone. The dealer’s stated export value is checked for accuracy. If everything is okay, the diamonds receive a Kimberley certificate indicating that they are conflict-free.

Koidu, Sierra Leone

Evangelique de Témoins du Christ church, MbujiMayi, DR Congo

Party at a diamond dealer’s home, MbujiMayi, DR Congo


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Diamond courier, Zaventem airport, Brussels

MbujiMayi, DR Congo

Exporting from Kinshasa airport, DR Congo

Antwerp

Antwerp The flights from Africa arrive at Brussels’ Zaventem airport early in the morning. Diamond couriers invariably carry their stones with their hand luggage. For customs officials it is almost impossible to know whether all the diamonds are declared. The stones and the paper work are vetted in the customs office, and transferred to another courier who takes them to the Antwerp World Diamond Center. There they are piled on trolleys in the building’s brimming cellar. The diamonds are checked against their provenance certificate and weight, and whether the value corresponds with the record.

Removing diamonds from the safe, Kinshasa, DR Congo

Not long ago, there were fifteen thousand diamond workers in Antwerp, today there are no more than three hundred. The work has moved to low-wage countries such as India and China. Only the most expensive diamonds are polished in Antwerp, when labour is a negligible cost. Diamond polishing and cutting is largely a Jewish industry.

Certifying diamonds, Kinshasa, DR Congo

Diamond district, Antwerp

Diamond exchange, Antwerp

‘Boiling’ the diamonds, Antwerp


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India – Surat Surat is an industrial city in the state of Gujarat, around 250 kilometres north of Bombay. The last couple of years a new, explosive industry has emerged: diamonds. Almost a million people work here as cutters, polishers, or dealers. Lunch at the factory, Surat, India

Surat, India

Surat, India

Surat, India

Surat, India

The numerous workshops are located in huge residential blocks where men squat on the ground in small soot-filled rooms. They sit in groups of four around a turning disc on which they press a steel holder. Every ten seconds they look through a magnifying glass at the rough diamond held in the tip of the holder. Each factory employs between ten and a hundred workers from the countryside, including many children even today. They live in rooms which they can only afford by sharing with other workers, while some live in the factory itself. They return home once a year. A twelve-hour working day may seem excessive, but the fifty-USD a month wage is not bad by Indian standards and makes up for much. Surat, India

Surat, India

Lunchtime, Surat, India

0.05 carat, Surat, India

Surat, India

Polishing disc, Surat, India

Diamond market, Surat, India


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New York

New York

Amsterdam

Jeweller, Paris

New York – Amsterdam – Paris The United States is still the largest market for diamonds. Eighty-three percent of American brides insist on a diamond ring, for which American bridegrooms paid out almost 4.5 thousand million dollars in 2004. Although the heart of this trade is on 47th Street, the most exclusive jewellers are located elsewhere. Here the wealthiest clients visit the showrooms by appointment to make their purchases. Amsterdam was the centre of the diamond world until the 1920s. Because of the unfavourable tax climate the industry moved south, to Antwerp. However, Amsterdam remained a centre for the retail trade. Here, large so-called factories pretend to their visitors that cutting and polishing still takes place. Actually, they are tourist attractions that draw hordes of customers each day, tempting them to buy finished gems. Among the best clients are the increasingly wealthy Asian tourists. Yet Amsterdam lacks the grandeur of the Place Vendôme in Paris. This is where the most exclusive diamond dealers are located. Their clients include models and actresses. Always good for promotional campaigns and advertising.

Place Vendôme, Paris

Jet-set party, London

New York

The photographic exhibition 'Diamond Matters' was created in cooperation with the Netherlands institute for Southern Africa (NiZA) / Fatal Transactions and West Africa Witness (WAW). The exhibition was made possible by the financial support of Novib, Care, Stichting DOEN, NCDO, Plan, FNV Mondiaal, Kleurgamma, Development and Peace and the EU. Exhibition realised by Teun van der Heijden - Heijdens Karwei The contents of this exhibition are the sole responsibility of the Fatal Transactions campaign and can under no circumstances be regarded as reflecting the position of the European Union.

Polishing, New York

Polishing, New York

Jet-set party, London

Jet-set party, London


A

Denis (27), Paulo (30), Joao (28), José (27) Angola ‘We live in Lucapa, and walk 28 kilometres every day to Chibulo and back. That’s where the mine is where we work.’

Ishmael Nyaka (34) Sierra Leone ‘I was born in Koidu. When war broke out, I fled to Bo. At the end of 2003 I came back. I’m a mine worker. It’s no good here, there are no social services. I get no money, only food. When a diamond’s found, we share the money.

Agalula Tshimanga (52) Bakwa Bowa, DR of Congo ‘I sieve the gravel six days a week. I work for myself. My family is here too. The problem is, I hardly ever find a thing.’

Lingode (25) Angola ‘I come from the Democratic Republic of Congo, but I work here in Bula in Angola. I work on a diving platform. We dive into the river for diamonds. I operate the compressor that provides oxygen.’


B

Sheka Kamara (18) Sierra Leone

Kalenga Lukasa (13), Mbala Lukasa (19), DR Congo

‘I’ve been a diamond worker in the Sewa River for a year. I stay underwater at a depth of ten metres for two hours at a time. It’s pretty cold. The air comes through a diesel compressor.’

Domingos Papa Seko (35) Angola ‘I come from Malange originally. I’ve been a mine worker since 1992. During the war I was sent to Bula as a soldier. I’ve been here since then. I sieve the gravel that comes from the mine.’

‘We are brothers and live in Bakwa Bowa. We arrive each morning at the mine at 7 AM and go back home at 7 PM. We dig for ourselves, we don’t go to school.’

Mary Kangbo (35) Sierra Leone ‘I was born in Bo and came to Koidu in 1973. During the war I fled back to Bo. I’m a licensee, but things aren’t going well. I need an investor. I have about fifty boys here digging for me. They get food.’


C

Pastor Mbaya Kafui (42) DR of Congo ‘I’m a diamond trader here in MbujiMayi. I’ve been pastor too for the past eleven years. I set up my own church. There are three services a week, and 10,000 people come to them, and before the service or after it they sell me the diamonds they’ve found.’

Omer Tshiayanga (34) DR of Congo ‘I was born here in MbujiMayi. Eighteen years ago I started as a small diamond trader, and I used to go to the bush to buy. Now I’ve got three offices in town and a lot of cafés. The people who sell to me come to my cafés too. I’ve got two wives and three cars.’

Selyo (34) DR of Congo ‘I’m a trader in MbujiMayi. Business is good, I’ve just bought a new BMW 4WD. In a moment I have to go to Kinshasa for business, with my bodyguard.’

Mbuli Molulu (50) DR of Congo ‘I work with customs at Kinshasa airport. I verify goods for export. This is a bag of diamonds worth $ 3 million. It’s about to go on the plane.’


D

Yogesh (13) India ‘I come from a village far away from here. I live here in Surat with an uncle. I cut diamonds. I start at eight o’clock in the morning and work till eight o’clock at night. I earn Rs 3,000 [$ 65] a month. I go home to my parents once a year.’

Eddy Vleeschdrager Antwerp ‘I’m a diamond dealer here in Antwerp. My father was a diamond worker in Antwerp; there aren’t many of them left now. We import diamonds only from De Beers. This is a tencarat diamond, it’s nearly perfect; it’s worth about $ 104.000’

Yijay Choudry (35) India ‘I’m the manager here in Mandvi, a village outside Surat. Each worker polishes a different facet of the diamond. Before they pass it on to the next worker, I check that it’s been done right. I have three children.’

Philippe Schaeffer Paris ‘I’m vice-president of one of the largest jewellers in the world. We started off in Beverly Hills. All our jewels are designed here. Clients usually come by appointment. They rarely buy at once. They go away and think about it and then they come back.’


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Diamond Matters Kadir van Lohuizen Documentary Photography