Mysterious stones trigger diamond rush in poverty-stricken village of KZN


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Thousands of people have flocked to the outskirts of KwaHlathi village after a cattle herder unearthed a handful of unidentified crystal stones last week.

A woman uses a pickaxe to dig as hundreds more search for what they believe are diamonds on June 15, 2021 after the recent discovery of unidentified stones in the village of KwaHlathi near Ladysmith in KwaZulu-Natal. Photo: Phill Magakoe / AFP

KWAHLATHI – Single mother Lihle Magudulela spat a mouthful of dirt while sucking on a stone dug up on a hillside in KwaZulu-Natal province, convinced she may have found a diamond.

Thousands of people have flocked to the outskirts of KwaHlathi village, more than 300 kilometers southeast of Johannesburg, after a cattle rancher unearthed a handful of unidentified crystal stones last week.

Word of the discovery spread quickly, triggering a scramble for the site despite government warnings warning the stones could be worthless.

At dawn, men and women turned clods of earth with shovels and pickaxes and frantically searched the earth with their bare hands.

Many have found other mysterious stones and put them aside in small piles encrusted with earth.

“They are real,” beamed Magudulela, in her forties and struggling to feed her three children.

“I’m going to buy a car, a house, send my children to private school,” she told AFP.

The prospect of finding a diamond has sent glimmers of hope to one of South Africa‘s poorest regions as the coronavirus pandemic has worsened decades of extremely high unemployment rates.

The country, internationally recognized for its mineral wealth, still holds the record for the largest discovery of rough diamonds in the world – the Cullinan – discovered in 1905 in the small mining town of the same name.

South Africa is also the birthplace of the Kimberley Process, an international certification system aimed at preventing conflict diamonds from selling.

“We are poor, we are unemployed. But that could change everything,” said Precious, 38, who declined to give his full name.

She had spent the night digging with her teenage son and granddaughter.

The boy was clutching a transparent crystal the size of a ping-pong ball.

“They are not tired, we are looking for the money,” Precious exclaimed.

DREAMING OF ‘DUBAI’

Rumor has it that the Cullinan, which weighed over 3,000 uncut carats, lay just a few feet underground and dug up with a pocket knife.

The rough stone yielded nine major diamonds used to adorn the British Crown Jewels, as well as nearly 100 minor brilliants.

An aerial view shows people digging on June 15, 2021 as they search for what they believe to be diamonds after the recent discovery of unidentified stones in the village of KwaHlathi near Ladysmith in KwaZulu-Natal. Photo: Phill Magakoe / AFP

Johannesburg resident Thulani Manyathi, 36, traveled to KwaHlathi from the poor suburb of Alexandra with his four young daughters.

“We are going to live in Dubai. I want a two-story house, it will change our life,” Manyathi told AFP, fiddling with a pile of stones in his pocket.

“No school today,” he added. “We are looking for diamonds.”

There is talk of “foreigners” buying the stones for a few hundred rand in the nearby town of Ladysmith.

But experts say the stones are highly unlikely to prove valuable.

“These are not diamonds, people here are just wasting their time,” said Bhekumuzi Luvuno, 18, skeptically inspecting one of the stones he unearthed overnight.

Over the weekend, authorities asked diggers to leave the area, citing coronavirus restrictions, but to no avail.

The government sent a team of geological and mining experts to the area, now riddled with holes, on Tuesday to collect stones for analysis.

Police cars monitor the area to control the crowd.

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