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Botswana wants to fully participate in research and development led by De Beers

02 march 2020

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Jwaneng Diamond Mine                                                                                                            Image credit: Google



lefoko_maxwell_moagi_xx.pngAlthough the government of Botswana has refused to review its latest demands from the ongoing negotiations for a new sales and marketing deal with De Beers, it has indicated its desire to fully participate in research and development led by the diamond group.

Botswana’s new minister of mineral resources Lefoko Maxwell Moagi cited DebTech as one of the firms owned by De Beers that they had an interest in.

DebTech, which is based in Johannesburg, South Africa is a division of De Beers Group and it was established in the 1950’s to acquire, adapt or develop innovative technologies and services that have a significant impact on the efficiency and productivity of De Beers mining operations.

Moagi told Rough & Polished’s Mathew Nyaungwa on the sidelines of the Mining Indaba, in Cape Town that Gaborone wants DebTech and related firms owned by De Beers to have a presence in the country for Botswana to get the skills and benefit

Meanwhile, Moagi said Botswana has started diversifying away from its economic dependence on diamonds.

He cited copper as having a huge potential to contribute greatly to the country’s export receipts.

Below are excerpts from the interview.

How far have you gone with your negotiations for a new sales and marketing agreement with De Beers?

The negotiations are on-going and none of us can say anything about the negotiations. We believe that the negotiations in their nature – with De Beers having been our partner for so many years – must be and always be a win-win situation for all of us because we must [know] where the relationship comes from and how we want to benefit as a country, and how De Beers must also sustain itself as a company. So we believe all these must be done on a sustainability basis such that there is no harm to the relationship. We will of course haggle, but we will demand what we need to demand for, we demand to go higher in terms of other things. That is the nature of negotiations.

What are you demanding for?

Well (laughs) we are demanding for quite a number of things. Now you are pushing me into the negotiations, but certainly I can say that we look at how we have been benefiting from the relationship before and where we want to be this time around. We will put figures on the table…, but I think for the justice of the negotiations am scared to say anything than what I have said.

What is the state of diamond beneficiation in Botswana?

You know that De Beers brought the Diamond Trading Company (DTC) to Botswana in 2013, we believe that we need to accelerate from that space in terms of the downstream market. We need to capacitate our people to be able to value our diamonds better, to be able to price our diamonds better, to polish them better, to cut them better…We also need to be participatory fully in terms of all the research and development that is ongoing whether it’s (inaudible) or DebTech, all of those. We want these things to come into Botswana, to the country for the people to actually get the skills and benefit. Gone are the times now when things can sit elsewhere. So these are the sort of things that we continually engage with [De Beers].

Is there any appetite from the locals to participate in diamond beneficiation?

The locals have been hungry for a lot of time, they have got an appetite to do that and we just need to facilitate as a government and we will be found wanting if we cannot play in that space.

What are the factors affecting this sector from growing?

Well, traditionally diamond mining or business, let me put it that way, has been secretive. Possibly because any commercial arrangement is secretive. But then a lot of people, especially in Botswana, are quite educated, the people now know their rights and they know what they are supposed to get out of any agreement or deal. Also, things such as unemployment or underemployment catapult the urge to demand from whatever in their country, so these are the sort of conversations that are coming up from the general population and we need to be alive to those conversations.

What is the level of diamond exploration in Botswana?

Diamond exploration is continuing in Botswana and had been doing that for the past 40-50 years, and out of those years we have gotten like 12 dozen kimberlite clusters and altogether we have somewhere around 150 individual kimberlite pipes. So apart from the operating mines that are already there, we have other deposits that can be exploited, we just need to find the right investor and the right capital to do that.

What are you doing to diversify away from economic dependence on diamonds?

Like we said before, we are exploiting other minerals. Copper is huge on our plate, we have got the whole Kalahari copper belt, already we have Khoemacau Copper Mining that will have its first copper concentrate production in the first half of 2021. Apart from the base metals we also have other minerals that are being exploited, we have got industrial minerals and we want not just minerals space. We want to go to tourism, already we are into tourism, we want to develop our agricultural sector, especially the beef and small stock sector to export because the food will always be needed. So we have been inward bound in terms of thinking, producing for the country only but we can also look into export. That is what we are doing currently.

There were talks about Botswana assisting Zimbabwe to add value to its diamonds from Marange. Can you provide an update on this development?

Yes, we have always done that, we have bilateral relations with Zimbabwe, in fact, in the coming weeks, we will be having that meeting in Botswana to see how we can collaborate and exploit jointly, help each other in terms of capital…of human or resource capital and that is happening with other countries as well. We are assisting the Central African Republic (CAR) in terms of how they can develop their diamond business. We have done that for South Sudan in previous years whereby we assisted them from the legislative side to the technical side. So Botswana has always opened to assisting its neighbors wherever they are sitting because we believe that we can also learn from them.

Since the issue of energy is critical to the mining sector, can you shed some light on what Botswana is doing to ensure continued power supply to the mines and beyond?

Energy power is a big thing for any industry because if there is no power there is no industry. Everything grinds to a halt. It's topical that we are now talking about coal and green technologies and things like that. This has to be done in a phased approach, we know that because we have been talking about sustainable development goals, greener or cleaner technologies and things like that. The carbon footprint to be minimised so that is exactly what is happening, but people must understand also that a particular country would have, say for instance Botswana, coal as the main baseload approach to them whereas other countries are indulged with water, they can do hydroelectricity and other things. So what I am saying is that we are going push hard on the solar and wind turbines technology so that we can produce those power stations through those alternative sources to augment our coal-generated power without necessarily moving away from coal. We will seek cleaner technologies, will seek to bring our carbon footprint down, but it is not a shutter of our coal exploitation.

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