Minister vows state will not backtrack on promise to promote diamond beneficiation

Sherilee Bridge

Sherilee Bridge

Minerals and Energy Minister Buyelwa Sonjica has "serious concerns" about De Beers director Jonathan Oppenheimer's comments on diamond beneficiation, which aims to keep diamonds mined in South Africa in the country for cutting and polishing.

Oppenheimer said that South Africa's attempts to boost a local diamond beneficiation industry would not work unless there was sufficient subsidy to compensate for the higher costs involved.

"One moment De Beers commits to beneficiation in this country. Next moment they are sending this message," said Sonjica on Friday.

"Beneficiation is going to be law in this country," she said.

Oppenheimer was quoted by the financial daily Business Day as saying that polishing costs in sub-Saharan Africa were $70 to $100 (about R477 to R682) a carat compared with $6 to $8 (about R41 to R55 a carat in India.

"Unless the government is determined to subsidise that difference, the net benefit of selling those diamonds locally has to be measured against the net loss," he said.

According to Business Day, measures such as the Diamond Export Levy Bill were intended to increase the volume of stones cut and polished in South Africa, which last year produced 11percent of the world's supply of rough diamonds.

"Under the bill, all producers would have to supply a newly created state diamond trader with 10percent of their production," the report said.

This means large producers, such as De Beers, with yearly gross sales of more than R3billion will have to sell 40percent of their yearly diamond production to local beneficiators if they want to export the remainder of their diamonds duty-free. - I-Net Bridge