Mmegi Online :: The man who found Orapa's secret
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Last Updated
Thursday 19 September 2019, 12:08 pm.
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The man who found Orapa's secret

On a typical slow Monday in May last year, Monkgogi Chepete found himself holding a shiny rock in his hand, the likes of which had never been dug up in Orapa’s 48-year history.
By Mbongeni Mguni Fri 17 May 2019, 12:29 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: The man who found Orapa's secret








Veteran miners and sorters have come and gone at the country’s oldest diamond mine and yet none had the privilege of the wonder before the 33-year old Maunatlala native.

In his pincers, from the rough, sandy diamond-laden material emerging from the processors refining the dirt from Orapa’s bowels, Chepete was holding a large, blue glassy stone.

Now further refined and polished and even given a name, the Okavango Blue is one of the largest rare blue diamonds ever discovered in the world.

At 20.46 carats and boasting the third highest purity classification for blue diamonds, Okavango Blue is not only a rarity for Botswana, but the world. Already pundits are saying the Orapa-born stone could rival the world’s most famous blue diamond, the Hope Diamond, which, while it is bigger, has a lower purity.

While Okavango Blue is 20.46 carats today because of the polishing and refining processes, when Chepete first found it, the stone weighed 41.11 carats.

The Debswana diamond sorter initially could not believe his eyes. Orapa is hardly known for flashy discoveries and is generally known as the workhorse in a stable where Jwaneng is the star.

“There was nothing peculiar about the day prior to the discovery,” he says.

“It was the same mood as every day and I certainly did not expect to find something that would be spoken of so widely.

“The first time I saw it, I knew it was something that was quite unusual and it was the first time I had seen anything of its nature before.

“I showed it to others and they also said it was the first time they had seen such a stone.”

According to reports, Chepete and his colleagues exercised extreme caution in verifying that Okavango Blue was in fact a diamond. So rare was the find that, reportedly, some sceptics initially felt the diamond was a type of common stone.

Chepete himself does not confirm these reports, but acknowledges that the checks and double checks were done.

“It was the first time seeing something of that size and colour.

“We studied it very closely.

“We checked if it had all the characteristics of a diamond and we saw that in fact it had them all and it was a diamond.

“Many people around had worked for years before me and they had never seen anything like it.”

That

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the stone he had found was something major began to sink in for Chepete when he saw Orapa’s EXCO preparing to go to Gaborone to discuss the find.

“Sometime after the initial discovery, the plant manager called us and confirmed that the stone recovered was something special.

“The stone was going to Gaborone.”

Chepete joined Debswana in October 2016 from Lazare Kaplan, another cutting and polishing firm. Having initially begun his education in Maunatlala, he moved to Gaborone where he completed his Form 5 before being trained and joining Lazare Kaplan.

The local diamond cutting and polishing industry is synonymous with facelessness, a factory full of row after row of nondescript workers hunched over small stones.

In fact, the entire diamond value chain works on the same conveyor belt ritual of anonymity, workers digging up diamond-bearing rock, crushers and processors passing it off to sorters, then valuation and aggregation before on-selling for further refinement.

Chepete’s quick eye has helped him break the mould. He has now met President Mokgweetsi Masisi and his ministers as well as other important industry figures.

In Orapa he has acquired a celebrity of sorts. “People sometimes recognise me from pictures they have seen around the Okavango Blue publicity.

“I go into a shop and you see that people are looking wondering where they know me from.

“It’s not popularity and I don’t go around telling people who I am. There’s a lot of excitement in Orapa around that diamond,” he says.

The diamond sorter urges Batswana to value the role of diamonds in their lives, even if they believe they are far removed from the diamond industry. “The reason why you went to school or paid low fees for school is diamonds. “The reason why you can travel from Gaborone to Francistown on a tarred road is because of diamonds. “The reason orphans and the destitute get food packages each month, is diamonds.

“Those pipes and that water coming into your home is diamonds.

“Everyone who lives in this country is affected by diamonds and people must appreciate and take them serious. Diamonds are our lives.” For now, however, life is returning to normal for Chepete. He will kick off his shift at 7am and knock off at 4pm as usual.

“Hopefully, I can find another one,” he says of the Okavango Blue.

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