JCSU, De Beers and ‘blood diamonds'

Other than inside a jewelry store case, Charlotte doesn't have much to do with Africa's diamond mines.

That was before Ron Carter took over this month as president of Johnson C. Smith University.

Representatives from De Beers Inc., the world's largest diamond company, were in Charlotte on Monday as Carter's guests. The company is on a nationwide public relations tour to portray itself in a softer light.

The Johannesburg, South Africa-based company, wants to distance itself from past and current images of African apartheid and the “blood diamond” trade, which refers to stones mined during African civil wars to finance fighting.

Carter, who spent 10 years in apartheid-era South Africa teaching students, would like a donation from the company or some educational partnership. De Beers, at a Monday news conference in the uptown City Club, said it could offer students a chance to study its procedures and state-of-the-art mining operations in Botswana and South Africa.

“The CEO has made a commitment that he's working to transition the business. We are all aware of the things that haunt De Beers,” said Carter, a High Point native. He said the event and negotiations with De Beers are part of his promise to raise the profile of the school.

Two De Beers officials, both black women, said the company had no connection to conflict or blood diamonds.

To open a mine, De Beers must make a 30-year commitment before it recoups its investment, so it has an interest in promoting political and economic stability, said Sheila Khama, chief executive of De Beers Botswana.

“We agree it's the right thing to do, but more importantly for us it's the right thing from a business sense,” she said of investing in Africa.

“Don't just look at the bad stories. There's a lot of money to be made in Africa.”