By Tebogo Mokwena
Becoming successful in a highly competitive sector like the diamond industry is near impossible, but after 14 years, sisters Khomotso Ramodipa and Mosibudi Mathole have made it. Their business, Kwame Diamonds, not only mines rough diamonds, but also cuts and polishes them, and makes fine jewellery. Ramodipa, who is also the director of the company, told Vutivi News that they wanted to challenge the myth that the diamond sector was inaccessible to black people.
Ramodipa said that Kwame Diamonds, which was based in Johannesburg, was founded in 2008, although the desire to trade in the diamond industry came years before. “Our initial idea was to go into the mining sector, but because of the difficulty in obtaining mining licences, we realised that at that time it was not the space that we wanted to be part of,” she said.
“We were introduced to diamonds when an old man approached us with a bag of diamonds and said that he wanted to get a market for his diamonds. “We learned that he had owned a diamond mine, but because of the cash-in-transit nature and the difficulty of getting mining licences, we decided that we wanted to be at the furthest end of the diamond value chain where we deal with the byproduct of diamond mining,” she said.
To finance their business, they traded as diamond brokers from 2006 to 2008 before they obtained diamond beneficiation licences, which allowed them to cut rough diamonds and polish them. A few years later, Kwame Diamonds started making diamond jewellery, and in 2020 they received a mining concession through Alexkor to mine diamonds on behalf of the government. They employ more than 300 people. Ramodipa said they went into mining because it was becoming increasingly difficult for them to access rough diamonds.
“You must understand that during the lockdown period, the diamond industry ground to a halt globally for a few months,” she pointed out. “Because of that, we saw a need to go that route.” Ramodipe also said that because of the economic challenges the sector faced, South Africa need to do more to ensure that there were more local companies that cut and polish diamonds.
“South Africa is one of the few countries in the world that produce diamonds, yet we have less than 2000 diamond polishers, a figure that went down from around 5000 in 2008 due to the global recession of that period,” she said. “Small companies in the country need to be the ones beneficiating these diamonds instead of these diamonds going to other countries to be cut, only to be sold back to South Africa.
“We need to develop the mentality of having ownership to what is inherently ours, and understand how the diamond sector works instead of only being labourers,” she also said. Ramodipe said that one of their biggest dreams was to empower communities, especially women, to enter into mining. “We want to show them that it is possible even for women to succeed in male-dominated industries like mining,” she said.