Debswana’s Letlhakane dumps to produce 16m carats

Debswana has started construction of the Letlhakane tailings plant
Debswana has started construction of the Letlhakane tailings plant

As Debswana’s Letlhakane Mine reaches the end of its lifespan next year, the company will begin to mine the operation’s 83 million tonnes tailings dump.

Addressing the media in Gaborone last week, managing director, Balisi Bonyongo said the switching of operations from the mine to the ‘waste’ material would save the 386 jobs at the mine.

“Currently Debswana is building another tailings plant at its Letlhakane mine. Construction started in the first quarter of this year and it will have the capacity of recovering up to 800,000 carats per annum. This extends the life of the Letlhakane mine by 20 years,” he said.

This means a total of 16 million carats are expected to be recovered through the re-processing of rock material discarded on the dump after the diamonds had been extracted in the treatment plant.

The tailings dump represents the residue of ore processed at the mine over the decades and with modern technology, more diamonds are recoverable from the years of lower efficiency production methods and equipment.

The Letlhakane mine, which was first discovered during the sampling and evaluation process at Orapa and became Debswana’s second mine when it opened in 1975, produced 550, 000 carats in 2014 down from 680,000 carats in 2013.

Debswana commissioned a similar modular tailings plant at its Jwaneng mine in 2014 to processes old tailings deposited between 1982 and 1992. The Jwaneng plant processes up to two million tonnes, recovering 900,000 carats per annum.  According to Bonyongo, the end of reserves at Letlhakane will not result in any jobs losses. Rather, part of the staff compliment has been transferred to Damtshaa mine while the rest will be employed at the tailings plant.

“The tailings plant offers flexibility to increase or reduce production to respond to changes in the market,” said Bonyongo.

Debswana produced 24.3 million carats from its four mines in 2014, leading to a 31 percent jump in revenue with strong demand and a favourable exchange rate supporting the growth.

At its peak, Debswana produced 34 million carats in 2007, before adapting to a ‘new normal’ strategy of producing to the market, a development which analysts said contributed significantly to price growth.

According to Bonyongo, Debswana has this year adopted a guarded optimism approach, as indications are that the first half will be characterised by weak rough diamond demand with a recovery only seen in the last six months of the year.

While rough diamond market is weak, Bonyongo said Debswana has not slowed down production at it mines and the company will not experience shut downs as in 2009.

Debswana will, however, slow down production at it’s Jwaneng Modular Tailings plant this year, which has a capacity to produce 900,000 carats per annum.

From a high output in 2007, diamond production, which contributes just under 25 percent to Botswana’s GDP and 65 percent to foreign exchange receipts, has plateaued in the last few years as Debswana caps production to match weakening market conditions.

Editor's Comment
What about employees in private sector?

How can this be achieved when there already is little care about the working conditions of those within the private sector employ?For a long time, private sector employees have been neglected by their employers, not because they cannot do better to care for them, but because they take advantage of government's laxity when it comes to protecting and advocating for public sector employees, giving the cue to employers within the private sector...

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