Working Conditions in De Beers diamond mines - Koffiefontein

Koffiefontein is a major De Beers diamond mine tightly wrapped in much secrecy and security. Razor wire guards its pit - an excavated heart of a diamond-rich extinct volcano. The upper levels of the pit were removed up the spiraling tracks on its sides.

and the lower levels below are being excavated through a shaft drilled alongside the pit with tunnels underneath the pit. These make the floor of the pit collapse, revealing the tunnels used to take out the ore - as can be seen in the photo below. Winds blow dust storms into the mine down these tunnels, sometimes miners cannot see more than a yard ahead. Their shop stewards told me they are given a "nosebag", a piece of tissue with loops to go around the ears. This gets black with dust in about 20 minutes - but they have to wait a year until they can get a replacement. Unfortunately for the miners, asbestos ore naturally occurs inside diamond mines. Diamonds are sometimes found sitting in asbestos - and deadly asbestos dust is everywhere. The mine's ventilation system has frequently broken down - all with disasterous long term consequences for the health of De Beers's diamond mineworkers.

If black miners want to live with their family, they can live just outside the mine's security perimeter in the shanty town photographed below. It stands on land allegedly owned by the mine. The wages paid by De Beers to black diamond miners does not allow them better accomodation.

Then, a shop steward told one day not long ago a child found a diamond in a little valley near to this impoverished shanty town. It was a pretty place where the children loved to play under the shade of its trees, rocks and bushes. But, when De Beers heard of this discovery, they brought in heavy trucks filled with rocks, earth and heavy rubbish, and dumped them into this valley, wrecking it. The reason for this vandalism? It was to make it impossible for anyone else to find a diamond in this valley. If De Beers did not want this or any other place mined, it was not to be mined. The child was not allowed to keep her find. Anyone who found a diamond must hand it in immediately or face prison. The poor could not hope to profit from a lucky find.

The photo below is of another place near to this shanty town. It is the town's rubbish dump. The rocks are kimberlite - diamond bearing rock - but the children and adults we saw hunting for anything saleable or usable do not look for diamonds. They can only keep the rubbish.

Click here for more Koffiefontein - De Beers photos

Click here to go on to what happens at the Finch De Beers diamond mine.

Here for De Beers Klienzee diamond mine.

Here for the De Beers in Kimberley.

Here for the Children who cut Diamonds for 25c a stone -in slavery as defined by the UN

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All Photographs by Janine Roberts. c2002 All Rights Reserved