Thousands of punters gathered in KwaHlathi village in Ladysmith in search for what is suspected to be diamonds discovered by a herdsman. Picture: Doctor Ngcobo/African News Agency(ANA)
Thousands of punters gathered in KwaHlathi village in Ladysmith in search for what is suspected to be diamonds discovered by a herdsman. Picture: Doctor Ngcobo/African News Agency(ANA)

Don't ridicule the diamond diggers of KwaHlathi; give them jobs

By Zwe Nxumalo Time of article published Jun 17, 2021

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What sounded as a tolling of a monastery bell at the mark of a canonical hour to summon worshippers for a church service, was in fact not a bell.

It was the chiming voice of a cattle herder summoning dwellers of a small rural village on the outskirts of Ladysmith to his discovery.

He had unearthed glittering stones on a hill not far from the impoverished village of KwaHlathi.

Before sunset, hordes of village men and women had been triggered to flock the hill in an uncontrollable frenzy. Their hands maintained a tight grip on shovels, spades and broadforks.

The ground bellowed as the digging tools ate on the soil with the ferocity of a cornered bull. They were searching for the precious stones!

The sun struck them behind their necks, the dust slapped their faces, veins formed lines underneath their dark skin, and sweat danced excitedly on every part of their bodies.

After piles of soil had formed a mountain beside the holes they dug; lo and behold, the stones began to appear. A hope of a better future began to emerge from their beaming faces.

"I'm unemployed and I'm suffering. I first heard about this from the local boys who were heading to this mine, and I decided to follow," an elated member of the village was quoted as saying.

But why does the story of the community of KwaHlathi sound too familiar?

Oh, I remember – if we pick up our own shovels and dig the annals of South African history, we will discover that in 1867, a 15-year-old boy named Erasmus Jacobs found a small transparent rock along the banks of the Orange River near his family's farm. He took the rock to his father, who then showed it to their neighbour, Schalk van Niekerk. Van Niekerk found the rock intriguing, and offered to buy it from the Jacobs family. He sent it via mail to Grahamstown, where Dr William Guybon Atherstone confirmed that it was a 21.24 carat diamond. It was named Eureka. It is the single-most important diamond in the history of South Africa.

Why does this page in the book of SA's long history matter?

It matters precisely because of the nature of ridicule which the community of KwaHlathi were served upon discovery of what they believed to be diamonds.

It matters because in the minds of many, the story of young Erasmus bears more believability and acceptance than that of the cattle herder from a poor, barely recognised, community peopled by Black people like KwaHlathi.

Not only have hostilities towards this community emanated from the public,but even those tasked with the leading government jumped on the bandwagon and waxed lyrical about how the debacle was "illegal" and "risky".

"We call order and calm and urge all those involved to cease their operations and vacate the site," said KZN Premier Sihle Zikalala.

One of the pertinent points in the ANC's 1994 elections manifesto was: "The millions of people without jobs will be at the top of the ANC government agenda."

Alas! Youth unemployment in 1994 was 20%. in 2021 it sits at a devastating 70%.

What becomes glaring and uncomfortably obvious is the consistency of politicians in placing themselves as an obstacle whenever the people try to put their fate in their own hands. Even when they try to clean up the mess created by the same leaders.

If it necessitates discoveries of such a precarious nature to elate people from communities like KwaHlathi, then the guilty finger points at people like Zikalala and the government he leads.

The real elephant in the room is that a contingent of people wake up at dawn to dig for what they believe will disentangle them from the claws of poverty and suffering.

They don't have much faith in politicians, they don't have jobs; they have the time and, judging by their efforts, they are definitely not lazy.

Give the people real opportunities to improve their lives rather than ridiculing them for trying. Give the people jobs!

* Zwe Nxumalo is an activist and writer working on his first novel.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.

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