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"Diamond" rush is a bust, leaving many with lots of quartz, and shattered dreams

South African "diamonds" are worthless quartz
South African "diamonds" are worthless quartz... 02:30

Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa — As word spread that there were diamonds to be found beneath the soil in a tiny, rural village in South Africa's Kwa-Zulu Natal region, thousands of people descended with pick-axes in hand. Many people could still be found over the weekend, digging for a fortune they believed could fundamentally change their lives.

For a few days, people could dream. 

"I'll just become rich, and I'll take my family for holidays," said one man.

"I'll spend it in clubs. I'm gonna buy cars," said some younger fortune hunters. 

For a week they toiled with shovels and pick-axes, often slumping into an exhausted sleep right at the site. 

Stone find in South Africa turns diamond rush... 02:10

For many, it wasn't just the allure of luxury, it was desperation.  Life was hard enough for brick-layer Hlengani Maphumulo before the coronavirus pandemic. Now there's no work at all. 

"We are suffering, but we are trying our best and we are struggling, but we are trying," he told CBS News correspondent Debora Patta.  

Maphumulo and his family of five live on a welfare grant of less than $130 per month. He spent 15 of those dollars on transport to join his sister Nkululeko in the treasure hunt. 

They both spent nights sleeping next to the field of disturbed soil. Nkululeko celebrated every time she found another glittering stone.  Maphumulo carried on digging, dreaming of starting his own business. 

Then local official Peggy Nkonyeni turned up, and dashed everyone's hopes. The shiny stones coming from the dirt are quartz crystals, not diamonds.

SAFRICA-ECONOMY-MINERALS
A boy holds what he believes to be a diamond after the discovery of unidentified stones at KwaHlathi village near Ladysmith, South Africa, on June 15, 2021. PHILL MAGAKOE/AFP/Getty

"A lot of people here are convinced these are diamonds, no matter what you say," Patta told Nkonyeni.

"And of course, they are disappointed," she said. "But they know now that these are quartz crystals and they have accepted it." 

Her official delegation didn't linger for long at the site, leaving the bad news to travel by word of mouth.     

"Okay, so then again, if it's not a diamond I have to leave this place," said a dejected Maphumulo. "I think we have nothing else to do. Just go home." 

Unlike in the Paul Simon song, nobody here is going home with diamonds on the soles of their shoes, just pockets full of quartz crystal, and shattered dreams. 

Experts were planning to visit the site over the coming week, to see if all the quartz that's been found could possibly provide some kind of income for the local community. 

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