The search for diamonds and discovery of Orapa Mine
The search of diamonds in Botswana began in the Tuli Block in 1955. Three small alluvial diamonds were found along the Motloutse river. In 1967, between the village of Letlhakane and Mopipi Pan, a team of De Beers Geologists found abundant quantities of elmenite and garnet – the two chief indicators of diamondiferous kimberlite. In April 1967, the pipe at Orapa was found. This was to be the largest (117 hectars) of all the kimberlite pipes which were eventually located in this area. Because of the size of the pipe and the variable grade, sampling and evaluation took two years. But the results were exciting. The Orapa pipe showed considerable potential and the development of the mine was affirmed by the shareholders. Meanwhile, in 1968, two smaller pipes were discovered some 40 kilometres south-east of Orapa, near Letlhakane village.
On June 23rd 1968, the De Beers Botswana Mining Company was formed.
Dr Gavin Lamont (centre) and geologists Manfred Marx and Gim Gibson at Orapa’s Discovery Pit in 1968
“The diamond mines were a Godsend, and rapidly transformed the economy, increasing the revenue of the country from less that P10 million a year at Independence to over a billion today,” Honourable Minister of Mineral Resources and Water Affairs, A. M. Mogwe, 1990.
The birth of Debswana
In 1969 De Beers geologists began prospecting in the southern district of Botswana. The rock formations in the southern district are generally covered by a layer of sand 20 - 50 metres thick. Prospecting operations using systematic solid sampling techniques covered the area. The pipe that was to become Jwaneng Mine was eventually found in 1972 beneath a 40 metre layer of sand and calcrete in the Naledi River Valley ('Valley of Stars').
The town of Jwaneng is located on the perimeter of the Kgalagadi Desert, 125 km west of Lobatse, 80 km west of Bangwaketse village, Kanye, and 160 km south west of the Botswana Capital City Gaborone (using Thamaga-Moshupa road). Before the construction of the Jwaneng - Kanye tarred road by Debswana, the area was only accessible by 4-wheel drive and high clearance vehicles.
Around the same time in 1971, Orapa Mine was officially commissioned. Four years later in 1975, Letlhakane Mine was commissioned.
The signing of the agreement to establish Debswana
An occasion to mark the signing of the agreement to establish Debswana, a partnership between the people of Botswana and De Beers. Present were among others: H.F Oppenheimer, former Executive Chairman of De Beers Group, Sir Seretse Khama, former President of Botswana, Sir Q.K.J Masire, former Vice President of Botswana and former Minister J.G Haskins.
The birth of Jwaneng Mine
In May 1978 De Beers Consolidated Mines Ltd and the Government of Botswana signed an agreement to establish Jwaneng Mine. Debswana is a company in which the Botswana Government and the De Beers Consolidated Mines Ltd each hold a 50% share. Construction of the mine and the township commenced rapidly, the former coming into full production in July 1982. The Mine was officially opened by the then President of Botswana, His Excellency Sir Ketumile Masire in August 1982.
On this occasion, the President said: “Not only would Jwaneng Mine bring benefits to the community in the southern part of the country, but that it would also increase Botswana’s revenue in foreign exchange, thereby helping to finance development throughout the entire country.”
The commissioning of Jwaneng placed Botswana among the most important diamond producers in the world.
The official opening of Jwaneng Mine
In 1982, former President, Sir Ketumile Masire said at the official opening of Jwaneng Mine: “Jwaneng Mine is not just any new mine but a true prince of mines – a gem in the world of gems”. The Botswana diamond mining industry may be characterised as the lifeblood of the country, nurturing the entire population to a higher standard of living and better quality of life. Diamonds provide more than 70 per cent of Botswana’s foreign exchange.
Shareholders agree to double production
In August 1996, representatives of Botswana Government, De Beers Centenary AG and Debswana Diamond Company signed an agreement to double production at the Orapa Mine. The expansion increased Orapa Mine’s annual production of 6 million carats to 12 million carats from the No. 1 and No. 2 plants from the year 2000 and raised Debswana’s total production to about 26 million carats per year. Besides the Orapa 2000 project, the Aquarium Project, undertaken at Jwaneng Mine improved profitability. It comprises of a completely automated recovery plant and the fully integrated sort house. This project brought to an end the hand sorting of diamonds. High tech x-ray scanners used at this facility ensured quick and accurate diamond recovery and maximised profit.
Orapa 2000 Expansion – Official Opening of No. 2 Plant – with the latest technology
Orapa No 2 plant was initiated after an agreement singed between the Botswana Government and De Beers Centenary AG to double production at Orapa Mine.
Besides the Orapa 2000 project, the Aquarium project , undertaken at Jwaneng, is the most crucial to improved productivity.
Debswana first in administering ARV’s to employees
In May 2001, Debswana became the first company in the world to provide free Anti Retroviral treatment to its employees. The 100% subsidy covers employees living with HIV/AIDS and their one legally married spouse. Recently, (June 2006) employees’ children up to the age of 21 who are infected with HIV receive treatment through the Mine Hospitals in Orapa and Jwaneng. Those prefer to utilize non-Company facilities, have the option to consult some of the nominated private practitioners outside the Mines.
To Debswana, HIV/AIDS is an integral part of the business strategy. Its response to HIV/AIDS is among the highest corporate priorities.
The Company’s commitment to the fight against HIV and AIDS is captured in its philosophy to minimize the impact of HIV/AIDS on employees, their families and the Company through prevention of new infections, care and support of those infected with HIV and containment of costs.
Registrations for the Debswana’s HIV/AIDS programme increase
The success of the Debswana HIV/AIDS initiatives is reflected in the enormous increase in the number of registrations for the Company’s HIV/AIDS programme. The number of registrations almost doubled in 2005 when compared to 2004. In total, 616 patients were registered with the Disease Management Programme as at the end of 2005, representing an increase of over 233 over registration figures for 2004.
Botswana government, De Beers sign an historic agreement
A landmark agreement between the international mining giant De Beers and the diamond producing giant Botswana will see the two long-time partners embarking on a watershed initiative that can potentially transform the economic profile this land-locked Southern African country.
At the official signing ceremony held last May at the Gaborone International Convention Centre, and in the presence of Botswana President HE Festus Mogae, Botswana’s Minister of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources, the Honourable Charles Tibone, ebulliently declared: “The significance of these agreements cannot be over-stated. We must make the case that Botswana has now come of age.”
The signing covered a suite of agreements between De Beers and the Government of Botswana. They include the renewal of the mining license for the Jwaneng Mine, the most valuable diamond mine in the world, to 2029. The extension of mining licenses for the country’s other mines which were also discovered by De Beers will run concurrently. These mines are Orapa, Letlhakane, and Damtshaa. The extension of Debswana sales agreement for 5 years to the Diamond Trading Company (DTC) for another 5 years. The DTC is the international sales and marketing arm of De Beers.
Botswana’s Minister of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources, Charles Tibone (r) with Nicky Oppenheimer at the end of the signing ceremony.
The Botswana Government and De Beers conclude negotiations to establish Diamond Trading Company Botswana, a company which will sort, value, sell and market diamonds in Botswana and to extend all mining leases for 25 years.