To the Editors:
I was surprised and dismayed to discover The New York Review of Books publishing ads from the South African diamond mining concern De Beers. The single largest source of gem diamonds, like the ones your publication is advertising, is the Consolidated Diamond Mine at Orangemund in Namibia.
Such mining operations in that South African occupied UN Trust Territory are illegal, and in my opinion grossly immoral, given the brutality of South African rule in Namibia, the numerous decisions against South Africa’s continuing occupation of the country by competent world bodies, and the terrible repression and working conditions endured by Namibian workers.
South Africa’s mandate to administer Namibia was terminated by the United Nations in 1966 because of massive violations of human rights by the South African regime. Their continuing occupation of the territory was ruled illegal in 1971 by the World Court, and mining operations were banned by the UN Council for Namibia in 1974 under the terms of the council’s Decree No.1. Nevertheless, De Beers has continued to mine Namibian gem diamonds—some 1.5 million carats annually—to the detriment of the territory’s black population. Profits from Namibian diamond sales accrue not to Namibians, but to De Beers, and the South African government directly through taxes. And, since over half of the world’s gem diamonds are marketed in the United States, it is certain that many of the diamonds purchased by unsuspecting Americans are actually stolen from the Namibian people by De Beers. A publication devoted to the promotion of serious literature, intellectual discourse and the humanities does a gross disservice to itself and its readers by cooperating with and profiting from such organized thievery. It is, after all, the national endowment of an entire people that is being forcibly and illegally taken from them. The Review of Books should play no part in it.
Then there are working conditions. South African mines are the most dangerous and unhealthy in the world. On average three miners die in South African-owned mines each shift in conditions that would compare unfavorably with Dante’s immortal description of hell. Wages for blacks are a fraction of those paid whites, and black workers are forced to leave their wives and children in the northern war zones and travel hundreds of miles south to work in the mines, living in single-sex barracks in overcrowded, unsanitary conditions that are breeding grounds for alcoholism, depression and violence.
Reliable statistics are notoriously hard to come by on Namibia, because the South Africans are eager to disguise the magnitude of their crimes against the Namibian people. But probably 60 percent of the Namibian Gross Domestic Product is transferred to South Africa through profit remittances by De Beers and other South African companies and in taxes, while the per capita income for the territory’s inhabitants is below that of impoverished Tanzania, educational opportunities are terribly inadequate and the “diseases of poverty”—tuberculosis, kwashiorkor and intestinal parasites—are rampant.
For all of these reasons, I strongly urge The New York Review of Books to withdraw the De Beers ads and refrain from accepting any further advertising from South Africa-based companies until Namibia secures its rightful place among the community of free nations and the oppressed and suffering people of South Africa itself are released from the bondage of apartheid.
The policies and practices of the South African government and of the corporations who profit from them in South Africa and Namibia are antithetical to the humane values espoused by The New York Review of Books, implicitly and explicitly, in each issue. I am surely not alone in anticipating a return to ethical and moral advertising policies by your publication.
Thank you for your consideration in this most compelling matter.
Michael D. Fleshman
Lutheran Church in America
New York City
October 10, 1985