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Cover of Flight of the Diamond Smugglers by Matthew Gavin Frank
February 2021

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Flight of the Diamond Smugglers

A Tale of Pigeons, Obsession, and Greed Along Coastal South Africa
Matthew Gavin Frank

For nearly 80 years, a huge portion of coastal South Africa was closed off to the public. With many of its pits now deemed “overmined” and abandoned, American journalist Matthew Gavin Frank sets out across the infamous Diamond Coast to investigate an illicit trade that supplies a global market. Immediately, he became intrigued by the ingenious methods used in facilitating smuggling — particularly, the illegal act of sneaking carrier pigeons onto mine property, affixing diamonds to their feet, and sending them into the air.

From the mining towns of Alexander Bay and Port Nolloth, through the “halfway” desert, to Kleinzee’s shores littered with shipwrecks, Frank investigates a long-overlooked story. Weaving interviews with local diamond miners who raise pigeons in secret with harrowing anecdotes from former heads of security, environmental managers and vigilante pigeon hunters, Frank reveals how these feathered bandits became outlaws in every mining town.

Interwoven throughout this obsessive quest are epic legends in which pigeons and diamonds intersect, such as that of Krishna’s famed diamond Koh-i-Noor, the Mountain of Light, and that of the Cherokee serpent Uktena. In these strange connections, where truth forever tangles with the lore of centuries past, Frank is able to contextualize the personal grief that sent him, with his wife Louisa in the passenger seat, on this enlightening journey across parched lands.

Blending elements of reportage, memoir and incantation, “Flight of the Diamond Smugglers” is a rare and remarkable portrait of exploitation and greed in one of the most dangerous areas of coastal South Africa.


Matthew Gavin Frank earned a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing at Arizona State University in 2006.

Praise for this book

"[T]he author [Frank] creates an intriguing and unusual blend of genres. Here he mixes natural history with anthropology and a twist of true crime in a tale of small-scale theft."

Kirkus Reviews

"This book is a rare gem indeed, smartly researched by someone with a big heart and a beautiful mind."

Aimee Nezhukumatathil
Author of "World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishment"