I Really Don’t Understand the Allure of Gold or Jewels

Let’s imagine you’re marooned on a desert island, and one day a box washes up on shore. You open the box and inside you see a sparkling diamond (photo above, left). It’s your lucky day, right?

Or is it?

What would you do with that costly jewel? Sit and look at it?

I bet that would get old quickly – as soon as your stomach started rumbling.

You’d be better off if the box contained a McDonald’s hamburger.

As far as I can see, the only use I would have for a diamond in such a situation is to cut glass – if I had glass to cut.

As for gold and silver, I am sure dentists find them very useful, but I personally would be hard pressed to find anything to do with these “precious metals.”

I guess I just don’t have the refined taste some folks have. I don’t get the allure of shiny things.

I know they’re supposed to be worth a lot of money. But why? Why is gold selling at well over a thousand dollars an ounce?

Why are hundreds (thousands?) of hapless wretches risking abuse and death in Zimbabwe as Robert Mugabe’s oppressive government cracks down on the desperate hordes foraging in the country’s diamond fields (photo above, right)?

According to the UK Guardian’s David Smith, this is what’s going on in Zimbabwe:

Diggers and buyers poured in from South Africa, Botswana, DR Congo, Mozambique, Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria, Lebanon, Pakistan, UAE, Belgium and India…

Prostitution, teenage pregnancies and shotgun marriages soared. Clashes between diamond kingpins resulted in deadly shootouts in suburban houses. Dozens of people died when poorly built mines collapsed and buried them alive.

This free-for-all could not go on. The military launched a crackdown with all the ferocity that one has come to expect from Robert Mugabe’s regime. Operation Hakudzokwi (No Return) began with helicopter gunships strafing the diamond panners, cutting them down with automatic rifles as they ran. More than 200 died and many more were beaten, tortured or raped.

The military took over and the Marange fields, spanning about 265 sq miles, are now one of the most heavily guarded areas in Africa…

Estimates vary that anywhere between 300 and 3,000 illegal panners still risk their lives scouring the shallow earth mines, where many of the diamonds are of low quality and of industrial use only. Some now endure a new form of slavery working for military masters in illegal syndicates.

You can read the story here:

www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/jul/23/zimbabwe-blood-diamonds

In a continent like Africa, where millions are dying of starvation, it is shameful that so much of the available energy and resources are concentrated in mining precious metals and gems and drilling for oil. If I were calling the shots, the focus would be on producing food.

But in the world as it exists, gems, precious metals and petroleum are far more lucrative that rice and millet. So that’s where the investment – most of it foreign – is going. And that’s where potential food growers are flocking.

What draws Zimbabwe’s diamond hunters like moths to a flame? The answer is simple: They believe they could get rich. There’s a market out there that’s hungry for the shiny stuff.

But figuring out why the market exists is far from simple.

I think it starts out with fairy tales. By design or accident, many of those yarns we feed our children feature princesses and jewels, planting not only the sad seeds of class prejudice but also the nonsensical idea that gems have some intrinsic value.

However it began, the world has certainly been brainwashed into a reverence for gold and jewels instead of corn and wheat. And the notion has been enhanced by making sure these useless things seem rare.

For example, diamond czar DeBeers deliberately controls the flow of diamonds to the market, letting only so many get out at a time. Were it not for this kind of market manipulation, there would be more than enough diamonds to go round, and their price would plummet.

The fact that the world’s wealth is concentrated in so few hands also contributes to the nonsense.

The rich are prone to such extravagances as paying millions of dollars for a shiny chip of quartz.

As they say in Jamaica, “dog have money he buy cheese.”

And it’s the rich who convinced the world that gold is so desirable. Perhaps one day the world will wake up to the fact that food is getting scarce and all of those people – rich and poor – who thought their life savings safe in gold will find their nest egg has turned to dust.

gwgraeme

I am a Jamaican-born writer who has lived and worked in Canada and the United States. I live in Lakeland, Florida with my wife, Sandra, our three cats and two dogs. I like to play golf and enjoy our garden, even though it's a lot of work. Since retiring from newspaper reporting I've written a few books. I also write a monthly column for Jamaicans.com

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