Over the years the government of Botswana has used revenue generated from mining of diamonds, through the Debswana Diamond Company, to develop physical and social infrastructure such as roads, water supplies, electricity, telecommunications, health facilities, schools and human capital, for the benefit of all Batswana.
Funds generated from the diamond industry have also been used to support government’s HIV/AIDS programmes, including the provision of free antiretroviral therapy to citizens. The year 2014 marks 45 years of diamond production for Botswana. Debswana still contributes about 70 percent to export earnings, 33 percent to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 50 percent of government revenues.
Debswana’s Head of Corporate Affairs, Esther Kanaimba-Senai, looks back with pride and asserts that diamonds have contributed immensely to Botswana’s development.
“The company started its corporate social investment program as far back as 1971 with a budget of R25. The amount was increased over the years and we now manage a P15 million budget which covers education, sports development, arts and culture and environment,” she said.
Between 2011 and 2013, Debswana invested P9.2 million in legacy projects like the Jwaneng Cut 8 project. The company also runs two private hospitals in both Orapa and Jwaneng at an annual cost of P165 million. The two hospitals don’t attend to Debswana employees and their families only, but also cater for members of the community as well. Debswana has also created employment for 11,000 people, of which 5,000 are Debswana employees while the rest are contractors. For Kanaimba-Senai, it is important for Botswana to celebrate the many years of Debswana’s existence as a diamond company.
“We must celebrate the existence of a successful private public partnership that is Debswana, promote the role of diamonds in fuelling Botswana’s economy and re-affirm the company’s commitment to mining diamonds and enriching the nation. This commemoration will also be used to rally employees around the Debswana brand,” she said.
She further recalled that in 1969, Debswana embarked on a robust training and development programme to complement government’s efforts to develop its people and create the skills required to operate a top notch mining company like Debswana. Through its scholarship programme, Debswana has produced engineers, doctors, technicians, artisans, teachers, communications experts, pharmacists, accountants and many other professional cadres. A significant number of these are no longer working for the company and are actively participating in various sectors of the economy.
“Diamond revenues have transformed Botswana from one of Africa’s poorest countries, when it achieved independence in 1966, to one of Africa’s richest nations per capita by the 1990’s. Diamonds are the largest single contributor to gross domestic product, export earnings and government revenues,” said Kanaimba-Senai.
But there were challenges along the way, chief among them the 2008 global recession, which compelled Debswana to review the way it does business. There were also problems of deepening and widening pits, ageing plant and equipment and depleting ore resources, which all called for greater productivity and efficiency improvements if Debswana was to survive in an increasingly unpredictable global setting. Kanaimba-Senai revealed that as Debswana prepares to celebrate 45 years of existence, a number of events have been lined up.
“These include a secondary schools essay competition on Debswana and diamonds for development, the history of diamond mining and pipeline exhibition in Orapa. There will also be a soccer match between Orapa United and the Zebras,” she said.
Debswana will also host a prospectors’ seminar at which the original diamond prospectors who discovered Debswana’s mines will be in the country to share their stories. A gala dinner will also be hosted in Gaborone where major players in the diamond industry and senior government officials will be invited. Kanaimba-Senai also recognized the contributions of Debswana’s former Managing Directors such as Baledzi Gaolathe (01 January 1992 to 30 June 1997), Louis Nchindo (01 July 1997 to 30 September 2004), Blackie Marole (01 0ctober 2004 to 31 December 2010) and Jim Gowans (01 January 2011 to 31 December 2013). Currently, the company is under the leadership of Balisi Bonyongo who was appointed in 01 January 2014.
“Our mandate is to mine and recover diamonds safely, optimally and responsibly. Debswana is a 50/50 joint venture partnership between the government of the Republic of Botswana and De Beers Group of Companies,” said Kanaimba-Senai.