Diamond in the rough: the women claiming the diamond league

By Kamogelo Seekoei

They say a diamond is a woman’s best friend.

For three women the precious stone is not just a best friend, it is their passion and their business.

Although not associates in business, Musibudi Mathole, Thoko Zwane and Munira Desai are connected by their love for diamonds and make up the diamond collection trio that graduated, from the De Beers Enterprise Development programme, via the Raizcorp incubation.

Mathole says her career began in stock broking and investment banking but she had always been fascinated by diamonds and the diamond industry.

“I believed that women could play a part in turning around some of the more negative perceptions about the industry by starting a legitimate business that was properly run and licenced,” she says.

The thoughts were followed by diamond sorting and valuation course after which she received her licence in 2006.

“I also travelled through Africa to learn more about the industry, and teamed up with an Indian company to help them set up a South African-based diamond cutting works. My partner, Khomotso, and I started Kwame Diamonds in 2010.

She says the main barrier in the beginning was finance.

“When I approached a financial institution for help in starting a factory, they laughed at me. Also, this is quite a close-knit industry so you need someone to vouch for you, and to develop contacts and alliances,” she says.

She says finances are still a bit of a struggle but it’s been very useful having help to plan out our end goal and to now know where we are going.

“We’ve also learned a great deal about marketing and sales which has allowed us to position our company in a new way. It has become much easier to put the necessary building blocks into place,” Mathole says.

She says initially, when I started engaging with De Beers, all I wanted was for them to supply us with diamonds. It turned out that they were interested in helping to grow and transform the local diamond sector, and that’s how we landed on their enterprise development programme.

For Thoko Zwane things changed when a job advert caught her eye after a day of job hunting.

“It was a poster advertising a job at a well-known diamond cutting and polishing factory. The word ‘diamond’ stood out for me. It is a word I fell in love with,” she says.

For Munirah Desai’s diamond obsession started when as a young bride, she received a dowry and wanted to spend part of it on a diamond.

She contacted the De Beers head office.

“They were a little nonplussed that I hadn’t gone directly to a store, but I was adamant that my diamond had to come from De Beers. After pestering them for a few weeks, I was given the name of a dealer from whom I could buy a De Beers diamond,” Desai says.

My visit to the dealer changed her life she admits and over the years he became her mentor and very good friend.

She says at their first meeting, they came to an agreement thatshe would sell some of his stones for a small profit while learning about the nuances of the diamond trade.

“Initially, it was just a hobby but when my children had grown up I decided to turn it into a career. I completed the course offered by the Harry Oppenheimer Diamond Trading School and also qualified as a GIA graduate. It was a beautiful time in my life,” she says.

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