Calls are growing in South Africa for Britain’s royal family to return the world’s largest known clear-cut diamond in the wake of Queen Elizabeth II’s death.
Known as the Great Star of Africa or Cullinan I, the diamond is cut from a larger gem that was mined in South Africa in 1905 and handed over to the British royal family by South Africa’s colonial authorities. It is currently mounted on a royal scepter belonging to the Queen.
Demands for the return of the Great Star of Africa and other diamonds — along with calls for repatriations — have intensified since the Queen’s death. Many South Africans view Britain’s acquisition of the jewels as illegitimate.
A royal gift or a ‘stolen’ diamond?
Queen Elizabeth II wearing the Imperial State Crown and carrying the Orb and scepter after her coronation. Credit: Hulton Archive/Getty Images
“It was sent to Asscher of Amsterdam to be cleft in 1908,” it added.
Supporting the British monarchy’s claim to the precious stone, the Royal Asscher explains that the gem was purchased by South Africa’s Transvaal government (run by British rule) and presented to King Edward VII as a birthday gift.
A University of South Africa professor of African politics, Everisto Benyera, rejects this narrative. He told CNN that “colonial transactions are illegitimate and immoral.”
“Our narrative is that the whole Transvaal and Union of South Africa governments and the concomitant mining syndicates were illegal,” Benyera said, arguing that: “Receiving a stolen diamond does not exonerate the receiver. The Great Star is a blood diamond … The private (mining) company, the Transvaal government, and the British Empire were part of a larger network of coloniality.”
Queen’s death revives painful memories of British colonialism
According to the Royal Asscher, the Cullinan diamond was cut into nine large stones and 96 smaller pieces. The largest of the stones was named the Great Star of Africa by King Edward VII, who also named the second largest cut stone the Smaller Star of Africa.
The larger diamond was set in the Sovereign’s Scepter with Cross and the second cut stone was mounted in the Imperial Crown. Queen Elizabeth II has been seen in many portraits wearing these diamonds.
“The late Queen of England has flaunted these (diamonds) for over half a century,” said Leigh-Ann Mathys, a national spokeswoman for the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), a South African opposition political party, to CNN.
Mathys accused British colonial powers of stealing lands and appropriating mines that belonged to native people.
“Our call is for repatriations for all colonial theft, which the theft of the Great Star of Africa is a part of,” she said.
“We don’t call for its return, as this implies that there was a valid agreement in terms of which the British royal family was borrowed the diamond. It is in their possession purely as a result of colonial tenacities that suffocated natives in this country and elsewhere,” Mathys told CNN.