In the wake of Queen Elizabeth II’s passing, calls in South Africa are growing stronger for the British royal family to return the world’s largest known clear-cut diamond.
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. It was handed over to the British royal family by South Africa’s colonial authorities. At the moment, the diamond resides on a royal sceptre that belonged to Queen Elizabeth II.
Demands for the return of the Great Star of Africa and other items have intensified since the Queen’s death, as many South Africans view Britain’s acquisition of the jewels as illegitimate.
“The Cullinan Diamond must be returned to South Africa with immediate effect,” activist Thanduxolo Sabelo has told local media, adding that: “The minerals of our country and other countries continue to benefit Britain at the expense of our people.”
According to the Royal Collection Trust, which oversees the royal collection of the British royal family, the Great Star of Africa was presented to King Edward VII in 1907, two years after its discovery in a private mine.
Supporting the British monarchy’s claim to the precious stone, the Royal Asscher Diamond Company has said 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, telling 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 has 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.”
According to the Royal Asscher, the Cullinan diamond was cut into nine large stones and 96 smaller pieces. The largest of these 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 Sceptre with Cross and the second cut stone was mounted in the Imperial Crown, which has been on display this week on the Queen’s coffin.
African countries continue to fight for the recovery of cultural artefacts that have been stolen by colonial troops, with more than 6000 people signing a petition for the return of the jewel so that it can be displayed in a South African museum.
Images: Getty Images
This article first appeared on OverSixty.