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1990: Diamond Board South Africa Will Bring De Beers and Government to Table

December 1999

Yet another fight is brewing between the South African government’s diamond board and De Beers.

The South African government’s diamond valuator, appointed by the Diamond Board, has once again held up diamonds meant for export, due to concerns over pricing. The valuator, Claude Nobels, complains that De Beers is denying him access to records and the proper information technology. “De Beers cannot go on challenging the state,” Nobels said. “They have to become a good corporate citizen.”

Nobels is turning out to be an interesting figure. There is talk that Nobels used to be a De Beers employee and was dismissed, which explains why he has constantly challenged the company. One South African newspaper recently ran a story that De Beers okayed Nobels’ selection because of a recommendation from a prominent sightholder.

Pricing is just one of the issues in this fight. The real issue, reliable sources say, is the government’s attempt to penetrate the secrecy of the diamond industry. They want to make De Beers, one of the main employers in the country, more publicly accountable and under closer supervision from the government. They also want it to take a bigger role in black empowerment.

But there could also be some sour grapes from the South African government. De Beers’ corporate identity is split between South Africa and Switzerland, and its sister company, Anglo-American, recently moved its headquarters from South Africa to London.

In the end, the two sides need each other. De Beers is dependent because of its mines located in South Africa, and South Africa needs De Beers because of the contribution it makes to the country’s economy.

But De Beers is clearly facing a different kind of South African government than before, and it may have to become more open.

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