Botswana Chamber of Mines Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Charles Siwawa says although Botswana has significant mineral resources, they can only add real value to the country’s economy through extraction, processing as well as selling of the finished product to an end user. He said this at the just ended Botswana Resource Sector Conference.
“Until the country achieves proper ownership of the entire production line, I can boldly say minerals beneficiation is still at infancy stage,” revealed Siwawa.
He said although it is important to be mindful that projects that lead to beneficiation do not come cheap, the decision to invest in such projects needs to be made promptly. “I do acknowledge that relocating the processing of diamonds to Botswana was a significant growth step in the right direction but a lot more needs to be invested into many projects of similar magnitude,” Siwawa said.
Siwawa also said one of the most successful elements has been the policy of diamond beneficiation. He explained that through downstream processing of rough diamonds which were previously exported and processed elsewhere, the diamond cutting and polishing industry has created in excess of 3000 industrial jobs in Botswana and is now the largest manufacturing sub-sector in the country.
According to Siwawa, although Botswana is eager to diversify away from the minerals sector, he firmly believes that the industry will remain a key driver of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), hence the need to focus on creating a favourable economic environment for minerals beneficiation. “Most importantly jobs will be created downstream as a result of beneficiation,” Siwawa said.
The biggest challenge to the mining industry, says Siwawa, is global mineral market collapse, which is usually unavoidable. “The second challenge is lack of skilled personnel which is however manageable. In 2013 we invited trainers from Germany to train our citizens and this year the students will be graduating and ready to be integrated into the industry,” he said. Siwawa said the mining sector has huge capital expenditure implications coupled with high and frequent exposure to risks and therefore cautioned that entry by individuals into the arena should be done appropriately.
“Beneficiation could add value to the country’s economy through increased export value of products and employment creation. It could also bring opportunities such as the generation of power for local consumption as well as exporting to the African region,” said Siwawa. He said Botswana coal resource sits at billions of tonnes so it is reasonable to believe beneficiation can be achieved through generation of power to local markets and export to Southern African Development Community (SADC).
“On a positive note an increase in primary mining activities over the years has opened up beneficiation options for minerals such as copper, nickel, iron ore, to name a few,” he said. He said the future of the diamond cutting and polishing industry is however still of doubtful sustainability. “A sectoral development plan for diamonds which looks at effectively lowering production costs while raising the potential of other diamond beneficiation activities beyond cutting and polishing, should be the preferred approach to the development of the industry,” he advised.