Former colonies demand their diamonds and jewels back after queen’s death

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Queen Elizabeth after her coronation with the crown jewels. (PHOTO: Getty Images)
Queen Elizabeth after her coronation with the crown jewels. (PHOTO: Getty Images)

Since the queen’s death, calls have been growing from Britain’s former colonies for the United Kingdom to return the precious gemstones that form part of the crown jewels.

The crown jewels include a collection of some of the world's most rare and expensive gemstones, including the Great Star of Africa, which weighs a whopping 530,2 carats. 

Conversations about colonialism and how it relates to her legacy have begun since Her Majesty's death and social media has been ablaze with comments from people demanding the return of their country's diamonds and other precious gems.

“Return the crown jewels to the nations your family stole them from,” someone says on Twitter.

“That palace and crown jewels are monuments to genocide. Tear it all down and return the wealth immediately,” says another.

“I think now would be a good time to return the crown jewels back to the African nations they were stolen from," another comment read.

But how did the gems end up in the queen's collection?

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Queen Elizabeth, jewels, colonies, diamonds, death
The Sovereign’s Sceptre with Cross has been used at every coronation since King Charles II’s in 1661. The Star of Africa is set in the sceptre. (PHOTO: Getty Images)

The Star of Africa is also known as the Cullinan diamond. It was discovered in South Africa in 1905 and is named after the mine's chairman, Sir Thomas Cullinan.

In its natural form, the original diamond weighed around 3 106 carats and was around the size of a human heart.

The Star of Africa currently sits at the heart of the queen's royal scepter and debates continue over if it should be classified as a gift or a stolen diamond. 

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In 1907 the treasure was purchased by South Africa's Transvaal government (run under British rule) and presented to King Edward VII as a birthday gift. 

The gift symbolised the healing relationship between Britain and South Africa following the Anglo-Boer War. 

However, there are some historians who argue that colonial transactions are illegitimate as the proceeds, in this case the Cullinan diamond, came from land that was taken from native inhabitants. 

Queen Elizabeth, jewels, colonies, diamonds, death
The Koh-i-Nûr diamond is set in the crown. (PHOTO: Getty Images)

The Koh-i-Nûr diamond, set in the queen's crown, is one of the largest diamonds in the world.

The sparkler weighs 105,6 carats and also has a controversial history. The East India Company deposed the jewel from 10-year-old Maharaja Duleep Singh in 1849 as a condition of the Treaty of Lahore.

This marked the end of the Anglo-Sikh Wars in the Punjab, in present day northern India and eastern Pakistan. The treaty specified that the jewel be surrendered to Queen Victoria. 

Opposing legends have maintained that the diamond is both lucky and unlucky. More recent tradition asserts it would bring misfortune if worn by a man.

Since the queen's death, it has been sitting on top of her coffin as she lies in state. 

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But can the jewels be returned?

The British Royal Family hasn't formally commented on the calls for them to return the jewels.

Although more than 6 000 people have signed a petition asking for the Great Star of Africa to be returned and displayed in a South African museum, the South African government hasn't made such a request. Likewise, the government of India has not requested the return of the Koh-i-Nûr diamond.

However, earlier this month, the Horniman Museum and Gardens in London agreed to hand over their artifacts, including several sculptures known as Benin bronzes, after receiving a request for the artefacts from the Nigerian government.

It remains to be seen if the royal family will follow suit.


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