Talking with the Minister

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The following interview with South Africa’s Minister of Minerals and Energy took place at the May 2000 Kimberly conference organized by the Ministry to seek practical solutions to the problem of conflict diamonds in Africa.

Martin Rapaport: What can the governments of Africa do to ease the problem of conflict diamonds?

Minister Mlambo-Ngcuka: There can be an improvement in law enforcement by insuring that there is coordination and compatibility among governments. Different law enforcement systems must communicate and cooperate so you don’t have a situation where an illegal trader gets away with something in another country because the systems are not talking to each other. As far as South Africa, Namibia and Botswana are concerned, we are able to coordinate our systems. Because this issue goes beyond these countries, we are interested in supporting and being part of an international initiative to make sure that countries like Angola, Sierra Leone and the DRC have the capacity to enforce their laws. We are obviously trying to encourage them to look at what we’ve done, not that we say our situation is perfect but it is certainly better than what they have. We think that for those countries to be able to do what is necessary, they will need much more than what South Africa alone can do. That is why international cooperation is so important. It can assist us in different ways to make sure that the capacity and willingness to enforce the laws is developed and implemented.

MR: Why has South Africa become interested just now? The conflicts involving diamonds have been going on for many years?

Minister: South Africa has been free since 1994, which is not that long. For as long as we have been an independent government, we have been involved in these issues of conflict through a number of important initiatives. Until now we have never worked with institutions like Global Witness because we didn’t know them. Now, that a greater number of people are involved there’s greater coordination. Obviously there is now a critical mass so there’s greater impact.

MR: So, it’s fair to say that the NGO’s have played a role in encouraging the governments to take on more responsibility on this issue?

MINISTER: Absolutely. That is why we have gone out of our way to develop and support the work of Global Witness (UK) and PAC (Canada). After getting to know them, we went out of our way to invite them to discuss issues with us. We planned this Kimberly conference with their involvement, because we feel that they are an important part of the jigsaw puzzle.

MR: Does the threat of a consumer boycott against diamonds threaten the strategic economic interests of the government of South Africa?

MINISTER: Absolutely. Not just the government, but the people of South Africa, the workers, the jobs, and poverty in the region. People would lose jobs in some of the countries that need this industry very much. You can actually worsen the situation with a boycott because then there would be no revenues for governments and other legitimate institutions that improve the quality of life for people.

MR: So, what’s going to happen after this conference?

MINISTER: We will follow the recommendations of the working groups that will work between now and the international ministers meetings in August. We hope that the governments will come here and endorse these recommendations. These recommendations are structured so that individual countries have specific things to do. Everybody has to check up on their own law enforcement systems, but there is also a need for cooperation. Someone has to make sure that the laws are enforced internationally.

MR: Will South Africa support an international system of regulation regarding the flow of rough diamonds?

MINISTER: If it is practical, feasible and cost effective, definitely. If there’s a break-through in technology that can make this happen, we will be for it. We are open to it.

MR: What message do you have for the international diamond trade?

MINISTER: The message from me is that the interest of the producer countries are the people of the producer countries. The people of the producer countries are very important. As long as people in producer countries are impoverished, their raw material is just mined and does not accrue any additional meaningful benefits for them. It’s always going to be difficult to find fairness in this kind of situation. Diamond producers whose work we appreciate must use their influence to ensure that there is always attention given to the conditions of the people that produce the diamonds. So that these people are not living in conditions of slavery or poverty while they are producing this wonderful product for everyone else.

MR: So you’re saying share the profit of the diamond industry?

MINISTER: Share the profits, come invest here, build your factory here, and work with us. Support training initiatives and support peace initiatives like the one taking place here.

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