Friday, August 31, 2007

A huge diamond, a fancy hotel and a very poor African community

I’m not really superstitious, but a lot of things happened lately that made me think of The Cullinan, that very large diamond that is now reputed to be part of the English crown jewels.

Weighing in at 3106.75 carats (621.35 g), it’s the largest rough gem-quality diamond ever found. It was found in 1905 by Frederick Frost, a surface manager at the mines in Cullinan.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago there were media reports that a diamond that was larger than the Cullinan had been found. Speculation is ongoing as to whether that new find is a hoax. I didn’t care one way or another, so that debate just floated over me.

Then I stayed at the The Cullinan, a very nice 4-star hotel during my visit in Cape Town. The hotel was lovely, the service excellent, giving me the space to work without stress. ( not their fault it rained most of the week.) So the hotel being named after the diamond floated over my head.

Thursday work took me to the town of Cullinan. I attended the launch of the Development Bank of Southern Africa’s 2006/7 annual report, and the bank chose to host the event at Refilwe Township outside the small town.
But I couldn’t help looking at the community and thinking: “It could have been me!”

Development issues

As I mentioned previously, I’m from Phokeng in the North West Province of SA. Phokeng is made up of 29 smaller villages and has a population of about 300 000 people (including those living diaspora like me).

The media likes to call Phokeng the wealthiest rural community in Africa. What it is, is the second largest producers of platinum (I think). Unlike the people of Cullinan, we are benefiting economically from the natural resource we have through some shareholding and strategic partnerships with the mining company.

But the district around Cullinan, with many of people living in shacks and lacking basic services such as running water, sewage and electricity.

The municipality have serious money problems, because citizens refuse to pay rates, arguing they shouldn’t have to pay as they don’t receive the services.

The municipality also struggles to attract the kind of skills they need jumpstart the local economy. The mayor said in her keynote speech that 80% of the people working for the municipality have matric (high school diploma) or less. The town needs development assistance, which is why it has a number of projects with the development bank.

It was hard for me to swallow some bitterness and consider that the Cullinan diamond was an above board find. It was bought by the Transvaal government and later presented to King Edward IV.

The fact that it was a local resource, belonging to these now-horrendously poor people, is just a reality of being in Africa. It doesn’t help to cry about the past, and bemoan resources that are forever lost. Concentrate on the future, on what we can build. Get over it, move on.

Still, I want Baby to be aware that as an adult, she will be guardian of whatever resources we have. I also want her to know the richness of Africa, and realise she can play some role in rebuilding the continent. Once we were rich, and we can be so again.

Story ideas

The Cullinan got me thinking of potential stories:

1. A story of a diamond that is larger than the Cullinan being found. It would probably bring out thieves, scammers as well as the legitimate parties. And how would the diamond be protected from them? Makes for an intriguing teen adventure novel, and has enough bling to interest girls too.

2. Non-fiction book for children outlining interesting pieces of history related to South African towns. E.g.Cullinan for the diamonds, Mafikeng for the founding of boy scouts etc. I’m sure if I dug I would find more, and this is the stuff Baby may not learn at school.

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