Africa welcomes new clean diamonds boss

2012-11-17 08:48

President Jacob Zuma’s special envoy to the Great Lakes and former ambassador to the US, Welile Nhlapho, has been elected to become the 2013 chairperson of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) to mark the organisation’s 10th anniversary.

Nhlapho is set to take over from Gillian Milovanovic of the US whose term of office comes to an end next month.

Political analyst and International Crisis Group representative, Trevor Maisiri, indicated that South Africa’s assumption of the KPCS chair was of strategic importance to Zimbabwe which launched a concerted push at the inaugural diamond conference held in Victoria Falls this week to have sanctions imposed by the US on its Marange gems lifted.

He said: “It is hoped that South Africa’s new role will bolster a regional campaign to end the embargo.”

Namibia and the Democratic Republic of Congo both roundly condemned the US-imposed sanctions at the conference.

Launched in 2003 under former South African president Thabo Mbeki’s tenure, the KPCS aims to prevent “conflict diamonds” from entering the mainstream rough diamond market and ensure that diamond purchases are not financing armed conflict by rebel movements.

The perceived domination by South Africa of the Kimberley Process appears not to have bothered delegates at the conference, as they led an anti-US sanctions campaign.

Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu, the current the Kimberley Process deputy chair, set the tone of South Africa’s stance by slamming the US-imposed sanctions in her address to the conference. She said sanctions did not affect Zimbabwe alone, but the whole of Africa.

“The presence of SA at this conference is testament that we are opposed to the sanctions. They affect the whole continent and we have come out to speak against this,” Shabangu said.

The mining of Marange diamonds has come under the spotlight for alleged human rights violations from international watchdogs – Human Rights Watch and Partnership Africa Canada.

The latter claimed in its latest report, released this week, that the scale of plunder that had taken place in Marange was the biggest since Cecil John Rhodes’s colonisation of the nation in 1890.

Pressured by delegates to rally behind the Kimberley Process condemnation of the sanctions, Milovanovic admitted that her term of office had fell short of meeting the member states’ demands and said she had only laid preparatory work for SA.

“One year is not nearly enough time to achieve what we seek to achieve, and we anticipate that our SA colleagues will continue initiatives that carry the Kimberley Process further in the coming decades and sustain its relevance,” she said.

However, South Africa’s Abbey Chikane, the inaugural chairperson of the Kimberley Process, described Milovanovic as an ineffective chair, who took her cues from the US rather than the collective stance of the diamond body.

“The danger of having a chairmanship that is ineffective in facilitating the consensual agreement adopted by the group is that the KPCS is likely to be fragmented,” said Chikane.

In an interview with City Press this week, Goodwill Masimirembwa, the Zimbabwe Mining Development Company chairperson, was upbeat over the tough tone against Milovanovic.

He said: “As SA takes over the chair of the KP next year, we are certain that she will remain our all-weather friend . . .” 

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