Diamonds have done wonders for this country since the discovery of the precious stones in the Ngwaketse and Boteti areas in late 1970s. The revenues accrued from diamond sales have graduated this country from a least developed country to middle income state, a status that has also brought bad things for us.
The change of status has come with own set of problems though - with donor organisations and countries no longer finding us a worthy case to support.
Ever since their discovery, diamonds have dominated news headlines here and abroad, with some people trying hard to label ours blood diamonds but without success. The simple reason for this was that our diamonds are not blood-stained, but are for developments.
This multi-billion pula sector has created many jobs from mining to sorting and polishing, and has contributed immensely to the countryís Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
This week, the minister of minerals, energy and water resources Kitso Mokaila told a conference organised by mining giant DeBeers that the government was going to increase working hours for diamond polishers from 212 working days to 283. The minister argued that our competitors in Asia (China and India) are far ahead of us, and therefore we have to keep up with the pace. This cannot be disputed and it is a fact that our productivity does not only lag behind in the diamond industry, but in all other sectors of the economy.
We have to caution the minister however, that he needs to advise his government to intensify labour inspections of these diamond factories. We all appreciate the conditions under which Chinese and Indian work. International media has reported cases of abuse in the Asian job market, where in some instance multiple deaths have occurred as a result of negligence and abuse.
We also are aware of the working conditions of factory workers in Botswana, including those in the diamond sector. Under the guise of security of the precious stone, many of the workers are made to work in poorly ventilated concrete halls. They can be dismissed at the snap of a finger and when companies go through financial difficulties, like this year, workers are, without warning, shown the door.
Early this year, Teemane Company in Serowe closed its doors leaving about 300 employees and their dependents with a bleak future. At least 600 other workers in this sector have suffered the same fate this year alone.
Once closed, the company is gone, leaving its employees fighting with commitments such as store credit and bank loans, not to mention the lack of comprehensive pensions and benefits due to their industrial class status.
We hope that as Mokaila intensifies productivity in the diamond polishing industry, he will also ensure that there is job security, improved working conditions and tighter labour inspections.
“Diamonds are not the only thing that shine, and the people of Botswana are an even more important resource to invest in.”
- Communiqué from De Beers, MMEWR Connecting Resources conference