Tuesday, March 13, 2012

This Day in History: Mar 13, 1881: Czar Alexander II assassinated

Czar Alexander II, the ruler of Russia since 1855, is killed in the streets of St. Petersburg by a bomb thrown by a member of the revolutionary "People's Will" group. The People's Will, organized in 1879, employed terrorism and assassination in their attempt to overthrow Russia's czarist autocracy. They murdered officials and made several attempts on the czar's life before finally assassinating him on March 13, 1881.

As czar, Alexander did much to liberalize and modernize Russia, including the abolishment of serfdom in 1861. However, when his authority was challenged, he turned repressive, and he vehemently opposed movements for political reform. Ironically, on the very day he was killed, he signed a proclamation--the so-called Loris-Melikov constitution--that would have created two legislative commissions made up of indirectly elected representatives.

He was succeeded by his 36-year-old son, Alexander III, who rejected the Loris-Melikov constitution. Alexander II's assassins were arrested and hanged, and the People's Will was thoroughly suppressed. The peasant revolution advocated by the People's Will was achieved by Vladimir Lenin's Bolshevik revolutionaries in 1917.

In South Africa: De Beers Consolidated Mines Ltd. is founded to exercise control over diamond production in South Africa

Date: 13 March, 1888

On 13 March 1888, De Beers Consolidated Mines Ltd. was founded to exercise control over virtually all diamond production in South Africa. The company was registered in Kimberley, and was the merger of the De Beers Mining Company and Kimberley mines under the Kimberley Central Diamond Mining Company - managed by Barney Barnato.

Diamonds were discovered in 1860 on De Beer's farm, in proximity of Kimberley, a town which was later to be established. Two mines were dug on the premises and were once the world's most productive diamond mines. In 1871, Cecil John Rhodes bought a claim to the mine at De Beer's, which marked the beginning of his dominance of the diamond mining industry in South Africa.

De Beers expanded to include the Dutoitspan, Bultfontein and Wesselton diamond mines, which resulted in the development of a comprehensive system. More diamonds were produced and soon underground mining took the place of open mines.

Sir Ernest Oppenheimer became the chairman of De Beers in 1929, and steered the company through the Great Depression. New diamond deposits were discovered near Lichtenburg in the North West Province, and in Little Namaqualand.

Oppenheimer also marketed diamonds internationally with the help of the Central Selling Organisation (CSO), which had also been created by Rhodes as the London Diamond Syndicate in 1890. The CSO controlled nearly 80% of global diamond trade by the late 1980s, but reduced demand resulted in its replacement by the Diamond Trading Company (DTC) in 2000.

Harry Oppenheimer assumed his father's position in 1957, and expanded De Beers' holdings by buying the diamond pipe at Postmasburg from Finsch Diamonds, and by playing a role in the mining of marine diamonds off the coast of Namibia.

De Beers was one of the first South African companies to address the HIV/AIDS issue by sponsoring drug treatment for its employees. The company has continued to influence the availability and price of diamonds globally, and has been accused of unfair trading practices.

The biggest shareholder in De Beers Consolidated Mines Ltd. is Anglo American PLC. Today the company remains the biggest producer and distributor of diamonds in the world, and has interests in synthetic diamonds, minerals, ores and mining, and processing equipment.

  • De Beers S.A. [online]. Available at: concise.britannica.com [accessed 4 March 2009]
  • "De Beers, A Diamond is Forever" [online]. Available at: debeersgroup.com [accessed 4 March 2009]
  • Potgieter, D. J. (ed) (1971). Standard Encyclopaedia of Southern Africa, Vol. 3, Cape Town: Nasionale Opvoedkundige Uitgewery (NASOU)

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