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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 November 2005, 12:34 GMT
Black firm gains De Beers stake
South African miner
Black workers are too far down the job ladder, the government says
South Africa diamond giant De Beers has announced the sale of 26% of its mining operations to a black empowerment firm.

The deal represents the biggest change to De Beers' ownership since the company's foundation in 1888.

South Africa's government has embraced black economic empowerment (BEE) as a means of giving economic as well as political power to the black majority.

Critics say the policy has only benefited a small elite of wealthy people close to the ruling ANC.

The deal announced on Tuesday appears to have been designed at least partly to address these concerns.

Not the 'usual suspects'

Ponahalo Investment Holdings, which will acquire a 26% share in De Beers Consolidated Mines (DBCM), will be 50% owned by South African-based De Beers employees and pensioners.

The shareholders include three "broad-based trusts" benefiting disadvantaged women, people with disabilities, and the communities living around DCBM mines.

"Ponahalo wants a qualitative change and, in partnership with De Beers, to bring in the value to make a change in the lives of people," Ponahalo chairman Manne Dipico said.

Mr Dipico is a prominent figure in the governing ANC party, and was formerly premier of Northern Cape province, in which De Beers' flagship Kimberley mining operations are situated.

However, Mr Dipico has not been a prominent player in previous BEE deals.

Speaking after the announcement of the sale, Minerals and Energy Minister Lindiwe Hendricks expressed satisfaction at the plans to bring benefit to communities, and also that the "usual suspects" associated with many previous BEE deals were not involved.

The government has previously accused De Beers of being slow to change.

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