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Calls for UK to return royal diamond to South Africa

May 4, 2023

A huge diamond mounted in a royal scepter will feature prominently in King Charles III's coronation ceremony this weekend, but some in South Africa say it doesn't belong there.

The Imperial State Crown and the Sovereign's orb and sceptre on the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II
The Sovereign's Scepter with Cross with the Cullinan I diamond (center) will be used in the coronation of King Charles IIIImage: Corporal Rebecca Brown/newscom/picture alliance

Days before the coronation of King Charles III, some South Africans are calling on the United Kingdom to return diamonds set in the crown jewels.

The world's largest clear-cut diamond was unearthed in 1905 and donated by the colonial government in South Africa to King Edward VII for his 66th birthday.

It was cut up into several pieces, the largest of which is in the scepter the king will hold at Saturday's coronation.

Another large piece adorns the front of the Imperial State Crown, and the rest were given to other royal family members.

Petition and calls for the return of the Great Star of Africa

Demands for the return of the "Great Star of Africa" or "First Star of Africa" have been growing.

Over 8,000 people have signed an online petition urging King Charles III to return the Cullinan diamonds.

"The diamond needs to come to South Africa. It needs to be a sign of our pride, our heritage and our culture," Mothusi Kamanga, a lawyer and activist in Johannesburg behind the petition, told Reuters news agency.

""I think generally the African people are starting to realize that to decolonize is not just to let people have certain freedoms, but it's also to take back what has been expropriated from us," he added.

He is not the only one. Vuyolwethu Zungula, who heads the African Transformation Movement, a small opposition party, said it belonged to the people of South Africa.

"People had to die, blood had to be split for those diamonds to find their way to Britain," he told news agency AFP on Thursday.

The South African government hasn't taken an official position on the jewels, but Queen Elizabeth II's death has triggered a new conversation over its return.

Colonial legacy challenged

In recent years, African countries have pushed to recover cultural artifacts taken by colonial powers, like the Benin Bronzes.

In an attempt not to offend "political sensitivities," Queen Camilla, will not wear the Koh-i-Noor diamond (also spelled Kohinoor and Koh-i-Nur) on her crown.

Indian politicians have long urged the 105-carat treasure's return.

India's ruling BJP party has made it clear that any plans for Camilla to wear it at the coronation would bring back "painful memories of the colonial past."

lo/rs (AFP, Reuters)