South Africa has a long history of inequity. For much of the 20th century, the nation was ruled by apartheid, a government-imposed system of strict racial segregation. In a nation with a large Black majority, a White minority ruled, denying Black South Africans basic rights and essentially treating them as aliens in their own land.
Apartheid officially ended in 1991, and three years later, South Africans elected a new democratic government led by Nelson Mandela, the country’s first Black president. But dismantling apartheid didn’t end the country’s problems, including widespread poverty and high unemployment, which currently stands at 32.6 percent. Among young people, the situation is even more dire: About two of every three South Africans ages 15 to 24 are without a job.
Those statistics help explain the long-shot appeal of KwaHlathi and its supposed diamonds.
A satellite village of sorts has sprouted there. Many diamond seekers wrap themselves in blankets and sleep in the holes they’ve dug. Vendors sell biscuits, sweet corn kernels, and kota—a South African street food of white bread, fries, and bologna. And there’s no shortage of merchants looking to cash in on their finds, which they insist are precious stones.
“Diamonds! Diamonds!” some people yell.
“I’m selling,” others say quietly, offering stones for anywhere from $7 to $42, the low prices revealing both their doubts and their desperation.
Government officials visited the site and took samples for testing. They’ve asked people to stop digging and leave, citing concerns about rising Covid-19 infections. They also say the informal digging is bad for the environment, destroying vital grazing land. But people keep coming.