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De Beers to reverse apartheid legacy

Terry Macalister

Black investors to get 15 per cent stake in diamond miner

London: De Beers, the most famous name in diamonds, is set to unveil the biggest shake-up in its 117-year history when it hands over part of its South African mining arm to black investors.

The company — established by Cecil Rhodes — is reacting to pressure from the South African Government to increase black representation and reverse years of marginalisation started under apartheid.

De Beers Consolidated Mines (DBCM) appointed David Noko as its first black managing director-designate two months ago, but it will now go much further with more than 15 per cent of the company expected to be put in the hands of a new black investment group.

The details will be revealed by DBCM's chairman, Nicky Oppenheimer, and his managing director, and younger brother, Jonathan Oppenheimer, in the presence of Lindiwe Hendricks, Mining Minister.

On Monday night, the company declined to give details of a restructuring that will cause waves across the mining sector but could improve De Beers' image. This has been damaged by charges of exploiting the Bushmen in Botswana, which it denies.

``I can confirm to you that we are making an announcement on the ownership structure but we are not saying anything else until tomorrow,'' said a spokeswoman for De Beers in Johannesburg.

DBCM is a subsidiary of the De Beers SA group, which is 45 per cent owned by Anglo American mining company with a smaller stake held by the Oppenheimer family. DBCM controls seven mines, including the Kimberley facilities where Rhodes made most of his wealth. It employs 10,000 in South Africa and produces 13.7 million carats, 90 per cent of the country's total. South Africa is the fourth largest diamond producer after Botswana, Russia and Canada.

A London-based mining analyst, who asked not to be named, said an ownership change at De Beers was another sign that the company could lose its grip on the sector. ``This should be good news for smaller diamond-mining firms,'' he said.

- Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005

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