When the odds stacked against Banyana Montsho she pondered if she had wasted an opportunity which many are spectators to and very few become its holders. Montsho was conferred a diamond jewellery design award dubbed the ‘Shining Light Award’ when she emerged the winner four years ago. Montsho returned to the latest installment of the competition but this time playing the judging role to give someone else the opportunity she was given. On Friday last week the glitzy award ceremony was held in Windhoek, the capital city of Namibia, where winners were crowned with the design glory.
The Shining Light Awards competition was started by the De Beers Group two decades ago and was launched in South Africa. Over the last decade since its launch it was introduced in Botswana and Namibia and today showcases talented jewellery designers across the diamond producing countries where De Beers has a presence.
Almost five years since the lights dimmed on Montsho’s award honor night she confronted and today continues to square up to the inhibitive conditions of the diamond industry particularly to such people as herself who historically have been disadvantaged in their participation in the industry. Montsho recounted the experience as akin to drilling the ground for themselves as the barriers of entry seem to defy the fervent pursuit of participation. She described the award as an introduction to the industry but on its own does not break the walls. “It takes more than just the award itself,” she said. She is presently working on building up a jewellery design company where she will continue to play the diamond field, seeking to finally break in.
The challenges faced by such a design talent as Montsho are not uncommon, in fact Senior Sales Manager, Richard Steenkamp, admitted to the existing prohibitive conditions. Although the award competition is intended to create opportunities and empower young design talent to participate in the full value chain of the diamond industry the strides made so far have addressed certain aspects of the known barriers. Barriers of entry play themselves out in one, access to finance, two, access to the market, three, access to the raw material (rough stones) and four, development of business acumen. The winners according to Steenkamp will develop and enhance design and business acumen skills through the apprenticeship and internship at the Forevermark Design and Innovation Centre in Milan, Italy where they will work alongside established jewellery designers. The award competition has changed overtime with the most recent modification being shifting from seeking elaborate and artistic design pieces to those that fit into practical consumer preferences. In the short term, said Steenkamp, the programme will focus on skills development and in the long term it will tackle financing and market access issues. “From a beneficiation perspective across the three locations, this is a De Beers focus over the next five years where we want to try to understand and break down the barriers that have been inhibiting historically disadvantaged people in our African locations to penetrate in this market,” he said.
Nine finalists from the three countries were selected from more than 130 entries for their impressive interpretation of theme ‘protecting nature’s beauty’ which they incorporated into their designs. At first place was Mbako Baraedi from Botswana, Richardlee Shoombe from Namibia and Andile Mbeje from South Africa. Second and third place winners were also selected from each country. “In the next five years I want to see myself dominating as a jewellery designer and manufacturer in Botswana as well as promoting Botswana as a jewellery destination,” said first place winner Baraedi. His pursuit however also hinges on the industry breaking down its walls to accommodate him.