Divers who risk their lives for ‘women’s vanity’

Posted: 07/06/2011 in all marine news

Melanie Gosling –

They are a rare breed, diamond divers, working alone in a high-risk job that sees two of them die on the West Coast every year.

“Mostly falling rocks. The diver excavates underwater, and he works totally alone. Four pulls on the line means he wants to come up, but if he’s under a rock, there’s no way to pull.”

George “One Time” Moyses, 59, drags on his cigarette in the little shack on the beach outside Port Nolloth.

“The sea is a treasure trove, but we get so little time to get it. You need a day with less than one-metre swell and visibility of at least a metre. You depend on the weather, like a fisherman. If I don’t get diamonds, I don’t get money. Winter times the divers are poor. And what you bring up, you give 50 percent to the company.”

Moyses has been a diamond diver for 30 years. It’s a life that’s getting increasingly harder. All the “easy” diamonds have gone, and in the last 15 years, the number of “sea days”, with calm water and good visibility, has dropped drastically, possibly because of climate change. And divers also don’t keep all they take out. Although they take the risks and bear the costs, they have to give up to half of the price of the diamonds to one of four big companies that own all the marine diamond rights: De Beers, Alexcor, Namaquagroen and Transhex.

Moyses, one of about 60 diamond divers on the West Coast, is one of the more colourful. His tiny front yard, cordoned off with old ropes from boats, is a crazy collection of flotsam and jetsam. Some have been transformed into art, like a “great white” carved out of a huge piece of foam. Old buoys, fishing nets and shells strung together dangle from the stoep. Painted signs on driftwood say “Baywatch Diamond Diver”, “Anti-stress therapy anytime”, and on the dustbin, “Bin Laden”.

“Ja, it’s a good place. Belonged to the head of the copper mine at Okiep in the 1920s. They used to travel here by oxwagon. It’s all I need, as long as there’s no tsunami.”

It took him a while to find his niche. Born in Senekal in the Free State, he went to university because it was expected of him, but left because he knew it was not for him. Then came his compulsory army call-up and afterwards he tried the hotel school in Johannesburg.

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