For the Oppenheimers, diamonds are not forever – by Marius Bosch ( – November 4, 2011)

Substantial part of proceeds earmarked for Africa

JOHANNESBURG, Nov 4 (Reuters) – For over 80 years, South Africa’s Oppenheimer family held sway over the global diamond trade, an era which came to an end of Friday with Anglo American’s buyout offer for De Beers.

The $5.1 billion the family will get for its 40 percent stake in the diamond giant could see a large chunk ploughed back into Africa for private equity investment or philantropic work in the world’s poorest continent.

The Oppenheimers have been involved at De Beers since 1927, when Ernst Oppenheimer, who founded Anglo American a decade earlier, took control of the group. The family’s fortune has been intertwined with South Africa’s history and economy ever since.

“At the end of the day this has been a very momentous decision for the family. We didn’t approach Anglo, Anglo approached us,” said James Teeger, managing director of family holding company E. Oppenheimer & Son.

The world’s largest diamond miner, De Beers was established in 1888 in South Africa. Its corporate slogan ‘A diamond is forever’ was created in 1947 and named the greatest advertising line of 20th century by Advertising Age magazine.

De Beers Chairman Nicky Oppenheimer, educated at Harrow and Oxford, is a passionate cricketer who has his own cricket ground outside Johannesburg. He has been at the helm since 1998 and his father Harry was chairman of De Beers for 27 years until 1984.

Anglo American has been trying to buy the family’s stake for years but the Oppenheimers declined to sell — even when the 2008 global financial crisis forced shareholders to pump cash into De Beers when diamond sales and demand for luxury goods plunged.

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