Nelson Mandela to speak out for diamond industry

Nelson Mandela has been enlisted to help the diamond industry defend itself against the film “The Blood Diamond,” a report says—but his appointment has kicked up an unexpected controversy.
A Los Angeles Times report notes that De Beers has hired what it calls “Hollywood’s top spinmiesters”—Sitrick and Company—to defend itself against the bad publicity that could result from the film, which will star Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Connelly. Most people in the industry think the film will open this year, but the Times pegs its start as January 2007.

The story appeared in a column by entertainment writer, Elizabeth Snead, in “The Envelope,” an online section of the Times dedicated to the entertainment industry.

Among the people the industry is getting to defend its product, the report said, is Nelson Mandela.

“Mandela is going to say that all that stuff seen in the film is in the past, that there are no more conflict diamonds in circulation and that the diamond industry is economically good for South Africa,” a “smiling inside source” quoted by the newspaper said. “And who in their right mind is going to argue with Nelson Mandela?”

The story was linked by widely read conservative Internet site The Drudge Report. However, the Drudge headline read “Mandela Hired by De Beers to Defend Star-Encrusted Hollywood Hit Film”—giving readers the impression that Mandela was being paid money.

However, there was no mention of Mandela being “hired” in the actual story, and, in fact, according to Carson Glover of the DTC account at J. Walter Thompson, he is not being paid.

“Many African leaders, including Nelson Mandela, support this effort, because they regard the legitimate diamond trade as essential to African development,” he said. “But Mr. Mandela and the other leaders are speaking out on their own.”

Even so, the story led to De Beers and Mandela being pilloried on right-wing Web sites. “Nelson Mandela – Corporate Sell-Out,” read one. “Money Talks for Mandela,” read another.

It is worth noting that Mandela’s stance is nothing new—the last time the conflict diamond issue heated up, around the year 2000, he strongly warned against a boycott of diamonds, saying it would hurt the South African economy.