South Africa To Process Own Diamonds, Stimulate Economy

South Africa To Process Own Diamonds, Stimulate Economy

South Africa, which processed just 4 percent of its own diamonds in 2011, plans to cut and refine 70 percent of the gems mined locally by 2023, Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu said, according to Bloomberg.

The goal is to keep more profit in the country. President Jacob Zuma faces a 23-percent unemployment rate going into the 2014 elections. He wants to revive the economy as gold, diamond and platinum output falls and mining companies retrench workers, the report said.

By expanding processing, South Africa plans to add jobs and increase its revenue from the jewelry industry.

“We want to establish a complete value chain to the final product,” Shabangu said today in Johannesburg. “South Africa is a mineral-rich country. That creates an opportunity.”

Miners in South Africa found the world’s biggest certified diamond in 1905. The 3,106-carat Cullinan, found near Pretoria, was cut to form the Great Star of Africa and the Lesser Star of Africa, set in the Crown Jewels of Britain.

In recent years output has dwindled as mines become depleted. South Africa, the fifth-biggest diamond producer according to Charles Stanley Group Plc, produced about 7 million carats in 2011, less than half the 15.3 million carats mined four years earlier, Chamber of Mines data show. Gold output dropped 25 percent in the period.

South Africa currently supplies raw materials to established jewelry centers in New York, Antwerp and Mumbai. The government will team with universities to boost skills and is considering changing laws to keep more gemstones and precious metals in the country, Shabangu said.

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“The issue of sharing the mineral wealth in South Africa is still inadequate,” she said. “If we can have more skilled people in South Africa getting into the industry we can see better growth.”

Expanding processing is “ambitious” considering that the country’s diamond industry has been shrinking since 2008 as the economy weakened, the rand fell and regulation increased, according to Andrew Stephens, vice chairman of the Jewellery Council of South Africa.

“We need a level playing field with our international competitors,” he said, citing burdensome regulation. “We don’t have that at the moment.”

A parliamentary committee is holding public hearings on planned changes to natural-resources legislation with a view to boosting local processing and declaring some output strategic to the country. Mining companies have said the proposals would affect their businesses negatively and give the mines minister too much regulatory discretion.