Company toasts to 50 years of diamond mining
When the then Bechuanaland political leaders sought independence from the United Kingdom, they were generally dismissed as a bunch of clowns who were all too eager to completely destroy what remained of one of the poorest areas in the world.
No wonder Sir Ketumile Masire would later pen his autobiography alluding to the perception most carried about what would later be Botswana. His book ‘Memoirs of an African Democrat: Very Brave or Very Foolish’; succinctly points to the perception most had.
Theirs was simply a leap of faith with the divine intervention on the horizon. As history would reflect – their brave step paid off. In 1967 – a year after independence, mining company De Beers’ exploration in the eastern part of the country bore some fruits as Geologist Manfred Marx, fresh out of university discovered first diamondiferous Kimberlite known as B/K1 pipe 15 kilometres north of Letlhakane village.
It took a decade to open a diamond mine in the country as the first one was opened in 1971 in Orapa and this was due to the remoteness of the country as the main challenge. Three other operations followed namely Letlhakane in 1975, Jwaneng in 1982 and Damtshaa in 2003.
Botswana government instead of leaving the mining of the precious stones to De Beers formed a 50/50 joint venture giving birth to Debswana Mining Company 50 years ago. The discovery of diamonds gave a glittering hope to the country and the then administration leverage of the newly found wealth to develop the country, building schools, healthcare and infrastructure development.
According to Tsodilo Resources Limited between 1870 and 2012 the world has produced some 4,898 million carats, mostly from kimberlites and Botswana which has started diamond 100 years after the big hole provided 665 million carats of this global figure which represents 14% of all diamonds ever produced.
This is almost the same as what South Africa has produced since 1870.
On Saturday at the high-end Gaborone International Convention Centre (GICC) and with the heavy weights of diamond mining in the world, Botswana celebrated five decades of diamond mining under a partnership between De Beers and Botswana Government that has been operationalized through Debswana Diamond Company.
Permanent Secretary to the President (PSP) Carter Morupisi hailed Debswana for standing the test of time in the past 50 years, saying the company managed to adapt to the new global markets while meeting the evolving aspirations of Batswana in claiming a greater share of the diamond value chain.
Debswana has been the engine of Botswana’s socio economic development with Morupisi acknowledging the efforts placed by the two parties – Botswana Government and De Beers – to deliver for shareholders.
In 2018 Debswana produced 24 million carats which is nearly a quarter of the world’s entire annual production.
Debswana Managing Director Albert Milton said his company is a cornerstone of the national economy as it contributed 80% to the Botswana’s export earnings, approximately 20 per cent to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and close to 40 per cent of government revenues in 2018.
Milton said Debswana remains futuristic and ambitious in its approach as evidenced by their various initiatives which are intended to sustain the mining company.
One of their ambitious projects is the multibillion Pula Cut-9 project to extend the life of Jwaneng mine to 2035. He said the P24 billion investments is expected to yield 52 million carats and creating over 1000 jobs – the majority of which will be held by citizens – at its peak.
Milton said Debswana is committed to mining safely, optimally and responsibly as well as making a meaningful contribution to the development of communities around its mines as well as the nation at large. In 2013 after long negotiations, De Beers agreed to move its rough diamond trade from London to Gaborone making the city as one of the world’s key diamond centres.
A key highlight of 2019 besides the 50 years anniversary celebrations is the re-negotiation of the diamond sales agreement between Botswana Government and De Beers.