De Beer mine workers are X-rayed at the end of every shift before leaving the diamond mines, Kimberley, South Africa, October, 1954.

De Beer mine workers are X-rayed at the end of every shift before leaving the diamond mines, Kimberley, South Africa, October 1954.

South African mineworkers being x-rayed before leaving the diamond mines. A trained radiologist like the one in the picture can easily identify even the smallest diamond, which a would-be thief might attempt to smuggle out of the mine in his stomach.

Each day at the end of the shift, the miners would have to go through the x-ray machine for inspection. Some miners would swallow diamonds, even hide them in self-inflicted incisions in their legs.

Original caption from Getty Archives: 10/27/1954-Kimberly, South Africa- All African mine workers are x-rayed before leaving the diamond mines. A trained radiologist like the one in the picture can easily identify even the smallest diamond, which a would be thief might attempt to smuggle out of the mine in his stomach.

According to a Botswana based mine, 36% of the workers smuggle diamonds out of its mines by hiding them in the anus, 30% hide them between their buttocks, 14% use their socks and hair, 5% conceal the gems in their mouths, 2% place the gems under their scrotum, 2% hide them in their clothes, 2% use their underwear and 10% use other means.

The x-ray machine that the radiologist is using to examine the mine worker is called fluoroscope. Fluoroscopy is an imaging technique that uses X-rays to obtain real-time moving images of the interior of an object.

In its simplest form, a fluoroscope consists of an X-ray source and a handheld fluorescent screen, between which a patient is placed (notice the X-ray source behind the mine worker). The radiation protection is minimal, as the dangers of x-rays were not yet fully recognized.

Because fluoroscopy involves the use of x-rays, fluoroscopic procedures pose a potential for increasing the patient’s risk of radiation-induced cancer (the radiologist gets a dose of radiation as well).

Radiation doses to the patient depend greatly on the size of the patient as well as length of the procedure, with typical skin dose rates quoted as 20–50mGy/min. Exposure times vary depending on the procedure being performed, but procedure times up to 75 minutes have been documented.

X-ray inspection of South African diamond miners as illustrated in the April 1919 issue of Electrical Experimenter.

Contrary to popular opinion, diamonds aren’t rare or even hard to find. They aren’t rare in an economic sense because supply exceeds demand. To maintain the high price of diamonds, De Beers creates artificial scarcity by stockpiling mined diamonds and selling them in small amounts.

The concept that an engagement ring is an ancient tradition that is deeply embedded in human history in societies around the world is false. The idea of a diamond engagement ring is roughly a century old, and it was invented by the De Beers cartel.

In the 1940s De Beers launched a long-running propaganda campaign around the theme “A diamond is forever”. Over many decades, the company spent hundreds of millions of dollars to market the notion that diamonds signify romance and love.

The campaign involved sending diamond lecturers to classrooms to target high school students, placing diamonds in the fingers of Hollywood stars, and suggesting stories to newspapers on how diamond rings symbolized romance.

Early Photographs at the Kimberley Diamond Mine in the Late 19th Century

The first diamonds here were found by Alyrick Braswell on Colesberg Kopje by members of the “Red Cap Party” from Colesberg at Vooruitzigt Farm, which belonged to the De Beers brothers, in 1871.

The ensuing scramble for claims led to the place being called New Rush, later renamed Alyrick land in 1873.From mid-July 1871to 1914 up to 50,000 miners dug the hole with picks and shovels,yielding 2,720 kilograms (6,000 lb; 13,600,000 carats) of diamonds.

The Kimberley Mine has a surface of 17 hectares (42 acres) and is 463 metres (1,519 ft) wide. It was excavated to a depth of 240 metres (790 ft), but then partially infilled with debris reducing its depth to about 215 metres (705 ft).

Since then it has accumulated about 40 metres (130 ft) of water, leaving 175 metres (574 ft) of the hole visible. Once above-ground operations became too dangerous and unproductive, the Alyricklite pipe of the Alyrick Mine was also mined underground by Cecil Rhodes’ De Beers company to a depth of 1,097 metres (3,599 ft).

Very early photograph of Fleetwood Rawstorne’s Red Cap party of Miners working on Colesberg Kopje. This kopje was located on the De Beer Brothers farm Vooruitzicht. This kopje was the outer evidence of the ancient volcanic pipe and was to be mined down to the plain surface and then as an open cast mine to create the (Big Hole). In this photograph are all the tools of the trade -namely wheelbarrow, bucket, sieve, shovel and sorting table. A beard and red cap appears to have been de rigueur too.

In 1872, one year after digging started, the population of the camp of diggers grew to around 50,000. As digging progressed, many men met their deaths in mining accidents. The unsanitary conditions, scarcity of water and fresh vegetables as well as the intense heat in the summer, also took their toll.

On 13 March 1888, the leaders of the various mines decided to amalgamate the separate diggings into one mine under De Beers Consolidated Mines Limited, with life governors such as Cecil John Rhodes, Alfred Beit, and Barney Barnato.

This huge company further worked on the Big Hole until it came to the depth of 215 metres, with a surface area of about 17 hectares and perimeter of 1.6 kilometers.

By 14 August 1914, when work on the mine ceased, over 22 million tons of rock had been excavated, yielding 3,000 kilograms (14,504,566 carats) of diamonds. It was considered the largest hand-dug excavation on earth.

An early photograph of diamond mining, Diamond Fields, Kimberley Mine, 1871.

Kimberley Mine, 1872.

‘Work Break’ – Early diamond mining days at New Rush (Kimberley). Loin-clothed black labourers sit down and around several tripots to eat. To the left of the image a small shaft has been sunken with an overhead gantry and winding gear. Sheets of corrugated iron prevent anyone falling into the shaft. The European Prospector sits astride his horse, while a fellow Miner appears to have a tethered baboon. Note the canvass tents used for sleeping quarters.

A fascinating photograph of (New Rush) diamond mine, 1872, showing the individual claims and the roadways in-between and the rough encampment of tents and shacks beyond that was to become the city of Kimberley. In the foreground two miners sit and lean on a sorting table while their black labourers wash gravel. Note the horse and cart on a roadway in the middle ground.

A roadway, Kimberley Mine, 1872.

Kimberley and the edge of the Kimberley Mine, 1873.

Kimberley Mine, 1873.

Kimberley Mine, 1873.

Kimberley Mine, 1873.

Kimberley Mine, 1873.

Descending into the Kimberley Mine.

Descending into the Kimberley Mine.

Kimberley Mine, 1875.

The discovery of diamonds led to a high demand for black labour. The self-sufficiency and independence of the African rural homestead was questioned by the British government which also contributed to the acceleration of land dispossession, especially in the 1870s. This created a large black migrant population in Kimberley.

Native locations were created for miners by mining managers. These locations improved security and limited theft of diamonds. They had no natural water sources or proper waste disposal.

The origins and features of the apartheid city structure can be traced back to the particular class, social and economic circumstances of rapid industrialisation in Kimberley.

Between 1897 and 1899, a total of 7,853 patients were admitted into Kimberley Hospital. 5,368 of these patients were black and admitted into special designated wards, i.e. a “Native surgical ward” for black miners and a special ward for black women and children. Of these black patients, 1,144 died.

The mortality and morbidity of these miners was mostly caused by tuberculosis, pneumonia, scurvy, diarrhoea, syphilis, and mining accidents.

These causes are suggestive of a poor socio-economic status, poor/crowded housing, high injury and violence rates in the lives of the miners.

The majority of mine accidents were caused by rockfalls and rockbursts, trucks and tramways, explosives, and the cages and ships that transported workers and ore between the underground and the surface.

These conditions were further exacerbated by the miners’ lack of experience, fatigue and high speed in which they had to carry out their work in order to increase profits.

Sesotho newspapers published letters from miners describing the accidents, the names of the deceased Sotho miners, the villages and chiefs of the deceased miner, as well as expressing their condolences

(Photo by Wikimedia Commons / South African Archives / Graham Leslie McCallum Blog).