The story of Botswana’s diamond miracle – a tale that has captivated the hearts and minds of many around the globe – remains fascinating today as when it first unravelled.
The romance of the story derives its setting in 1955 when Central African Selection Trust prospectors, lead by Gavin Lamont, uncovered an alluvial deposit of diamonds on the banks of Motloutse River, 250 km east of Orapa Town.
This was a year after the then Bechuanaland granted the DeBeers Consolidated Mines (DBCM) first crown-prospecting license. Lamont further explored the Ghanzi farms searching for the diamonds.
By that time, Botswana had gained its independence in 1966. The country was still among the smallest in the world, with a population of about 550,000 and income per capita of about US$80. Agriculture was the main contributor to the economy, standing at about 40%. Only six kilomotres of tarred road existed across the country; three km was the Gaborone International Airport road stretch, and the rest three km was in Lobatse after being constructed when the Queen of England visited.
That same year, the first two primary para-kimberlites were discovered by DeBeers Botswana Mining Company (DBMC) at Morobe in Ramokolonyane near Mochudi.
On 1 March 1967, geologist Manfred Marx discovered Botswana’s first diamondiferous kimberlite 2125 B/K1 15km north of Letlhakane village.
Seventeen days later, another one was discovered in Orapa- Letlhakane area. On the 25th April Kimberlite 2125 A/K1 was discovered at Orapa.
In 1968, DeBeers B/K9 and B/K12 discovered four Damtshaa pipes. The following year on the 23rd June, DBCM (Pty) Ltd and Botswana government agreed that DBMC owned 85% and Botswana government the remaining 15%. That same year, the first batch of students were sent to further their studies in London, under what became known as the Debswana scholarship.
Three years later more pipes were discovered at D/K2 and D/K7 at Jwaneng.
In July 1971, the late former President Sir Seretse Khama officially opened Orapa Mine, which led to the planning and execution of the economy development as the diamonds immensely contributed to the highest growth rate of average 8 percent per year, thus creating about 10% employment. Botswana Diamond Valuing Company had a 50:50 joint venture with DeBeers.
In 1982 Sir Ketumile Masire officially opened the world’s richest diamond producer Jwaneng Mine. The same year Botswana’s biggest Valuing Sorting diamond company ‘Orapa house’ was opened in Gaborone. In 1987 Botswana government acquired 5 percent stakeholder interest in DeBeers a magnificent step that was increased to 15% in 2001.
A year later DeBeers was renamed to Debswana and in 2007 Debswana negotiated with Botswana government on their 25 year leases to all their mines.
Diamond cutting, polishing and jewellery-making skills were launched in 2009 following the relocation of Diamond Trading Company (DTC) from its London Office to Gaborone.
In 2012 there was a formation of Aggregation Company in Botswana, which undertakes the aggregation worldwide, channelling production in Botswana for the first time.
In the midst of this, there were men
As part of their ongoing series of events to commemorate their 45th anniversary, Debswana appreciated the role they had played in the establishment of the mines.
Managing Director of Debswana Balisi Bonyongo said:
“Today we celebrate 45 years of Debswana incorporation which happened on the 23rd June 1969. We celebrate the men and women who over the past 45 years have steadfastly mined diamonds safely and diligently with due regard to environmental protection and good relations with hosts communities. We celebrate a company that has touched the lives of many through employment, education, health, sport and community development,” he said.
The celebrated heroes include Dr Gavin Lamont who led Jim Gibson and Manfred Marx between 1967 and 1974 during the discovery of Orapa, Letlhakane and Damtshaaa Mines.
Some Batswana who were also celebrated included Pono Malema, who was the first Motswana to step into the Orapa pipe in 1981. Malema worked as a navigator for 33 years. There was also Ratie April Ikotlhaeng who worked as an assistant field officer as well as a driller when Jwaneng Mine was discovered.
Other celebrated icons included heavy-duty drivers Jacob Makgane, Kgosi Diepo, assistant field officer Modiredi Lekone, Moses Namati, Robert Modisagape, and Gabosekwe Nthanogelang, who was the supervisor exploration DK1 and DK2 as well as Tabona Madise.
Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Minerals Energy and Water Resources (MMEWR) Kgomotso Abi, applauded the significance that these early prospectors had. She pointed out that through hard work and determination, these individuals had transformed Botswana from a poor country to a recognised middle-income economy.
“These Batswana played a critical role in supporting expatriate geologists during the sampling, processing of material and prospecting for Debswana diamond mines.”
Abi further acknowledged the visionary leadership at the time stating that it was a good gesture that they decided that all minerals, which were extracted, belonged to the state. “Without their visionary sight, Botswana would not be what it is today. “ he added.
Dr. Gaositwe Chiepe who was the Minister of Mines and Natural Resources at the time, was amongst the celebrated heroes as she took a leading role in the negotiations between Botswana government and DeBeers.
She applauded Botswana for its good governance, noting that it was important to ensure that the benefits from diamonds were spread evenly. “The talks were tough but fantastic. I felt that I was helping to shape the future of my country. Diamonds have become the backbone of our economies. The money from sales have ensured government provides our people with medicine drugs, schools and other development infrastructure,” she said.