Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Diamonds, diamonds everywhere but Botswana misses the shine

Botswana has an abundance of the shiny stones but has somewhat failed to develop enterprises from them. 

A diamond to Botswana means the telling of a prolific story that begins with what was described as a miracle of nature.  Through the technical support of De Beers, the government of Botswana weaved the diamond revenue into a fabric of prosperity for the nation at large. Botswana as the source of these diamonds finds itself with a single story, an embedded tale that is told and re-told but which now becoming hackneyed and to some extent seemingly clear that its telling is incomplete. 

Diamonds in Botswana are synonymous with constructed roads and buildings, education, clean water, medication, electrification and a list of all other necessities that they have funded. 

De Beers Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Bruce Cleaver described Botswana as the best example of the good that diamonds do if countries from which they are sourced are committed to investing them sensibly. However, this is a story he considers not told to the fullest. 

The narrative of a diamond folds neatly into its sentimental provenance, but what is emerging is that Botswana has missed on opportunities to commercialise its own story. Botswana has put in place a beneficiation strategy which could provide enterprising opportunities but is, however, as has been widely reported, facing a myriad of challenges. South Africa in comparison to Botswana, which ironically doesn’t have as much a rich history of diamonds as Botswana, is a set of steps away in terms of establishing an enterprising culture around diamonds, particularly at a small scale. 

Case in point is the pilot project, referred to as ‘De Beers Enterprise Development Project’ that was launched in South Africa in July 2016 which supports a group of five Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) diamond cutting and polishing companies considered  to have been historically disadvantaged in the form of entrepreneurial development as to harness their competitiveness, both locally and internationally. 

The companies, according to Frank Auger, Beneficiation Project Manager, will through the project receive industry specific mentorship from experienced and existing De Beers clients (sightholders) and access to rough stones valued at R200 000 each which however depends on identification of distribution channels and polished markets.  

The five companies which include Thioko Diamonds, Molefi Letsiki Diamond Holdings, Kwane Diamonds, Diamonds Africa and Nungu Diamonds exhibited at the recently held 34th Hong Kong Jewellery and Gem fair. 

It is expected among other things that through the project the South African cutting and polishing market activities will increase, hence supporting the country’s beneficiation efforts. When asked if Botswana was considered to pioneer the project Auger responded by saying that South Africa faired a better environment because of an already established base of enterprises of various sizes in cutting and polishing.  Asked if such an opportunity exists to launch a similar project in Botswana, Cleaver responded that Botswana “is on the cards”. 

The fact that “most people that work for Debswana have never seen a polished diamond,” as was made known by Cleaver, points to the unfortunate reality that if those that work closely with the rough diamonds cannot easily see a polished diamond, what then of an ordinary Motswana who does not have such a proximity to the rough stone?  

Sandeep Kothari, Managing Director of KGK, a De Beers client (sightholder), subscribes to the view that diamond companies operating in countries where diamonds are sourced must create the next generation of business people in those countries. This, he said, should be done through the deliberate transfer of knowledge and skills on how the entire manufacturing sector works. 

“Enterprise development is a duty. It is not a responsibility, it is my duty, it is the duty of the people who are operating in those countries to successfully drive beneficiation,” he said. 

In supporting enterprise development, Kothari detailed an ongoing programme which KGK is engaged in that takes young South Africans fresh out of college to impart complete knowledge and training in areas of pricing, quality control, manufacturing, sales and marketing to mention but a few. Botswana too has companies of the same nature as KGK but it seems, however, that the approach differs.

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