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The Thirion Report

 

 

Section 6. Extracts from the Thirion Report.


Pieter Willem Thirion was an honourable but little known white South African judge until 1982 when he was appointed to look into corruption in the divisive tribal structures the apartheid government of South Africa had imposed on the continent’s last colony, Namibia.

As Thirion’s inquiries widened beyond purely political corruption, his two key investigators, Martin Grote and Gerhardt Visser, began to focus on the behaviour of multinational mining companies in the former German colony.

They began to investigate the stewardship of the nation’s principal economic resource- the gem diamonds of the Atlantic beaches north of the Orange River. These remarkable diamond deposits had, in seeming contravention of the free trade terms of the League of Nations mandate, been given over to De Beers, a monopoly business concern based in London and Johannesburg, and its local subsidiary CDM, Consolidated Diamonds Mines.

The Thirion report, one of the most disturbing documents about mining malpractice ever to reach the public domain, sets out their findings:

*There were no meaningful controls over the country’s most important industry.

*The supposedly independent Diamond Board for South West Africa was sited in premises given it by De Beers.

*All the Board’s agents supposedly checking the diamonds leaving Namibia, assessing their size, quality and value or counting them to see if the same numbers arrived in Kimberley or London, were De Beers’ employees.

*The entire costs of running the board were met by De Beers, who simply deducted them from the taxes they were due to pay.

*The Diamond Board secretary who convened the meetings and wrote the minutes was a De Beers’ employee.

*******

As they dug further, Judge Thirion and his researchers found more and more evidence that the Diamond Board, which had been set up as an independent watchdog, had in fact been transformed into a helpless poodle which De Beers liked to keep sitting securely in its generous corporate lap.

The situation with the government mining engineer and the Inspectorate of Mines was little better.

  • The top officials had never even heard of the Halbscheid Agreement, the key controlling instrument taken over from the German colonial mining law to protect the diamond fields from irrational or improper exploitation.
  • Not surprisingly, since both the government mining engineer and the inspector of mines admitted under questioning that they knew nothing about the agreement, they had never thought of enforcing its provisions or even of running the most basic checks on the mine.

*******

The three hundred and fifty page mining report from Judge Thirion and his team paints a devastating portrait of the world wide De Beers diamond cartel and its behaviour towards Namibia.

Instead of mining in a proper way, to the average grade of the whole deposit, Thirion found De Beers was blatantly overmining ahead of independence and a new government.

“The Commission is satisfied that excessive depletion of the reserves in respect of grade and stone size occurred .... but also that excessive depletion in regard to grade occurred from 1963 to 1983 with the exception of 1971 and perhaps 1964 and 1965.

“Excessive depletion in diamond size occurred (apart from that in the 1940’s and 1950’s) in the latter half of the 1960’s and in 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974 and 1976.

“There was furthermore excessive depletion of the N blocks (the richest of all the mine deposits) from 1964 to 1974 ... in both grade and stone size.

“The excessive depletion of the deposit was a preferential depletion of the more valuable deposits to the detriment of the low grade deposits and therefore a breach of the provisions of clause 3 of the Halbscheid Agreement.

“The probabilities are that the effect of the excessive depletion of the deposit will be to shorten the life of the mine and to detrimentally affect its profitability towards the end of its life.“

( Extract taken from Thirion Commission Eighth Interim Report pp320-321.)

 

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