You Lie, Mervis!

If you live in the DC area, you’ve no doubt heard the overly-dramatic voice of Ronnie Mervis on the radio urging you to buy your woman’s love with one of his expensive diamonds. Milking his South African accent for all it’s worth, despite having lived in the US for decades, Ronnie implores customers to spend the average price of $8700 for a diamond engagement ring in order to show how much you love your lady in the most shallow and commercial way possible. 

But that’s not the part that annoys me the most about hearing Ronnie on the radio every day. Nor is the blatant sexism inherent in his company’s phone number (1-800-HER-LOVE). What annoys me the most about Ronnie is how he profits from perpetuating the stereotype of darkest Africa as some exotic land to which only he has access. As if he ventures deep into King Solomon’s mines and single-handedly emerges with the world’s rarest gems clinched firmly between his teeth as he fights off charging lions and hostile natives carrying spears.

When I heard Ronnie’s latest radio commercial I literally stopped what I was doing and burst out laughing. In his very serious tone he says “High in the mountains of Botswana lies the virtually inaccessible Jwaneng diamond mind….”

Now the reason this caused me to bust a gut laughing is that I happened to spend several months in Botswana earlier this year and I have been all over that country from top to bottom and I have yet to see anything even close to a mountain. It’s one of the flattest places I’ve ever been, and I grew up only miles from Kansas. The highest point in Botswana is Monalanong Hill, at about 4,900 feet. A substantial hill, to be sure, but not what I think of when I hear “high in the mountains…”

But here’s the thing, Jwaneng mine is nowhere near Monalanong Hill. You can’t even see it from there. It’s about 95 miles away, by road. In fact, the only geographic features visible from Jwaneng are the man-made tailings piles of the mine itself. Jwaneng is otherwise completely flat and featureless. Here’s the Google street view of Jwaneng, see for yourself.

And as for “virtually inaccessible”? I guess he didn’t want to tell us about the very smooth and modern A2 highway from Lobatse. Complete with street lamps. Doesn’t look very inaccessible to me. But if driving isn’t your thing, Jwaneng also has a very nice airport with a smooth paved runway more than a mile long that can accommodate small jets. Of course it’s privately owned by Debswana, the diamond company, but it doesn’t really fit the definition of “virtually inaccessible.” And someone had better tell the more than 18,000 residents of Jwaneng that their town is “virtually inaccessible,” which will no doubt come as quite a shock to them.

But that’s the thing. Would Ronnie still be able to bank on his darkest Africa stereotype if he was honest with us? If he said “Just a couple of hours up the smooth paved highway from the modern city of Gaborone in the middle-income country of Botswana lies a diamond mine in the middle of a flat and featureless terrain surrounded by scrubby thorn trees as far as the eye can see” would you still want to buy his diamonds?

Why lie, Ronnie? Why lie about something as easy to fact check as pulling up a Google map? I don’t get it.

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