A huge mural on a wall of Jewel City, which contains nearly 300 diamond trading companies, angers locals in South Africa.

What could be more hip, the urban planners must have congratulated themselves, than a splash of street art in gritty downtown Johannesburg? They commissioned American graffiti artist Above, to spray-paint a giant mural on the wall of Jewel City, the heart of South Africa's diamond trade.

But while they gave him permission to paint giant black-and-white letters that paraphrased Marilyn Monroe: “Diamonds are a woman's best friend,” he added a sting in the tail: “And a man's worst enemy.” This swipe at the global trade in conflict or “blood” diamonds has caused local anger, embarrassment and demands that the mural be scrubbed immediately.

Above, from California, boasts that he hoodwinked the property owner into allowing him to smuggle in a political message. “What the owners didn't know is that I lied to them and was hijacking their wall,” he told the graffiti blog 12ozProphet.

‘Blood diamonds'

“I assume the owners were so busy trading diamonds inside the mega centre that they never took the time to come out and see that I was painting a controversial wordplay about the diamond trade and how it's fuelled so much bloodshed in wars, making it one of man's worst enemies.” The huge mural is on the east security wall of Jewel City, which contains nearly 300 companies and is reportedly the biggest diamond exporter in the southern hemisphere, worth more than 7bn rand (£560m) a year.

The mural was commissioned by the nearby Arts on Main, a community arts and culture development, which is working with Jewel City to beautify the rundown neighbourhood.

Iain Nicol, an asset manager at Redefine Properties, which owns the Jewel City vicinity, said: “I don't know who Above is and I don't care. It shouldn't have gone up. He took money from our neighbours and didn't tell them properly what he was doing. The guys at Arts on Main feel embarrassed: they feel they've been lied to so they've inadvertently lied to us. It's a bit of nonsense.” Nicol said the mural would soon be replaced and insisted that Jewel City does not trade in diamonds from conflict zones.

“We are the legitimate side of diamonds in southern Africa. I do feel strongly about blood diamonds because there are thousands of people who work in the legitimate diamond business. Blood diamonds create a problem for them too.” Above should have picked a different target, he claimed. “There's a place to do that and take on someone moving blood diamonds. We are not moving blood diamonds. There are probably more blood diamonds going through Antwerp, Israel and India.” — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2012

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