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Botswana Diamonds’ Campbell on Alrosa exit: no exploration JV lasts forever

19 november 2018

james_campbell_excl_xx.jpgBotswana Diamonds is currently in talks with a major diamond producer interested in taking over a stake in Sunland Minerals previously owned by Alrosa.

The Sunland joint venture was established in 2014 to test existing Alrosa exploration technology on Botswana Diamonds’ large data base.

However, the Russians exited the joint venture company following changes in management and corporate strategy, which was now biased towards production and marketing.

Company managing director James Campbell told Rough & Polished’s Mathew Nyaungwa in an exclusive interview that Alrosa had been a good partner, but no exploration joint venture lasts forever.

He also commented on the company’s new project in Marange, Zimbabwe through its partnership with Vast Resources as well as South Africa’s Thorny River, which is Botswana Diamonds’ most advanced project.

Below are excerpts from the interview.  

Botswana Diamonds now wholly-owns Sunland Minerals, having acquired the 50 percent stake previously held by Alrosa. What is your take on their exit?

We have had a good partnership with Alrosa. The blend of their deep technical skills, fresh approach and our local knowledge has worked well. However, no exploration joint venture lasts forever and following changes in management and thus emphasis at Alrosa they decided to move on. The exit was achieved in a most orderly and constructive manner.

Given the work that you did together with Alrosa, do you envisage a strong potential for a commercial discovery in Botswana?

Botswana remains ‘Lion’ country for diamonds: not only from a prospectivity perspective, but also as Botswana is called the ‘Switzerland of Africa’ due to its stability and investor friendly environment. It is the world’s [second] largest diamond producer and has many companies running active diamond exploration programmes. Botswana Diamonds plc has prime exploration ground in the Kalahari and Orapa regions and yes, we are exploring in these areas as we believe there is strong potential for a commercial discovery.

When are you going to reveal your new Sunland joint venture partner?

We hope to make an announcement soon, so we can commence work with the new partner early in 2019.

Do you intend to offload half of your stake or you now want to be the majority shareholder?

We envisage a partnership very much like we had with Alrosa.

What is the potential of the modern alluvial diamond deposits and older conglomerates on the Heritage Concession in Marange, Zimbabwe?

We believe the Heritage Concession has significant potential for modern alluvial diamond deposits. This was evident from the desktop study and supported by my recent field visit. What was noteworthy was the abundance of artisanal diggings which reflects the potential commerciality of the modern diamond deposits.

What measures have you put in place to keep artisanal miners away from the concession?

We will only be considering this post the geological mapping.

We understand Vast Resources committed $1 million to the project. Do you have any plans to raise more capital?

Not at this stage. Following a desktop review, the next step is field mapping supported by various remote sensing technologies. Assuming positive results, drilling and bulk sampling will follow.

How confident are you of making Thorny River as your first diamond producing project?

The purpose of the company entering into a mining agreement on Thorny River is twofold. First to begin to generate revenue and second to self-fund the delivery of a maiden resource for the company. The latter point is particularly important as most companies have to resort to raising equity for resource delivery and the plan for this project is to be self-funding.

Is Botswana Diamonds gradually shifting from being an explorer to a diamond miner?

It’s still early days, but the company has a wide portfolio of projects covering Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe and spanning the resource pipeline from grass roots to advanced projects. Thorny River is the most advanced of these projects.

Since you now have solid operations outside Botswana, are you considering changing your company name?

We have not contemplated this although we are active across the sub-continent. Botswana remains our home and where we have our secondary listing.

Mathew Nyaungwa, Editor in Chief of the African Bureau, Rough&Polished