The Botswana government shrugged off concern that the diamond beneficiation process is going to lead to the loss of jobs and inadequate supply of rough diamond to the world’s most developed diamond polishing centre around the world.
Mooketsi Jongman, principal mineral officer in the Ministry of Energy and Minerals, told the Third Israeli Rough Diamond Conference that “ Botswana is only seeking to produce a tiny amount worth around US $ 550 million” which is far from igniting a global crisis.
“There is a discernable yet understandable degree of apprehension on the part of older diamond centers, institutions, associations and manufacturers regarding the changes occurring in the producer countries as it was amply demonstrated from comments .. in the opening session. It is only prudent and wise to, therefore, address the perception or misconceptions that may exist surrounding the aspiration of producer countries concerning local beneficiation,” he told the conference that ended here on Tuesday.
Botswana, Namibia and South Africa are pushing hard to develop strong diamond manufacturing centers, which will ultimately take over from centers such as Antwerp, Ramat Gan, Mumbai, Shanghai and Dubai. The three countries, put together, are the world’s top diamond producers and account for over 60 percent of the world diamonds.
“We as Botswana government have taken a considered decision to cautiously migrate downstream and shed the image of being exclusively and predominately a producer country as we have characterised ourselves in the past within the industry.
“We believe that this is an important step to take towards the maturation and strengthening of the mineral sector and the diversification of the structure of our economy,” he said in a speech, which was supposed to be delivered by his minister, Ponatshego Kedikilwe.
Botswana has taken a big shift in the last two years but licensed 16 sightholders to manufacture diamonds in the country. Further, Botswana will, starting next year, extend its mandate from being exclusively to the marketing, polishing, sorting of diamonds and add on the aggregation of diamonds from other producer countries.
The project is expected to build up starting next month when Diamond Trading Company Botswana ÔÇö a 50/50 joint venture between Botswana government and De Beers ÔÇö opens on March 18.
The move is expected to create 3000 much needed jobs and transform the Gaborone landscape in a global diamond market.
“ .. of the range of goods that our mines produce, and those that will go through DTC Botswana, only a small fraction can be profitably polished in Botswana, hence, our target of only half a billion US dollars worth of goods to be supplied to local factories by 2009. The rest will continue to go where it can yield best value.
“In Botswana, diamonds are a strategic national resource and our economy is heavily dependent on diamond and this is an irrefutable fact. Diversification, both within and away from the mining sector, is an urgent and present imperative. Our policies and actions regarding diamonds may often differ from those of other producers for the simple reason that our dependence on diamonds is arguably greater than that of any other country,” Jongman said.
He added: “After mining diamonds and exporting them rough over the last 35 years, we believe that the time has now come to build the diamond industry infrastructure that will help to stabilise our economy.”
“We acknowledge the importance of security of supply of rough diamonds to established diamond centers around the world including India, Israel, Belgium and the United States of America. The survival of the industry in these centers depends on an assured supply of rough. We are sympathetic to this situation and it is far from our intention to kill the industry in other areas,” he said in a speech.
According to industry sources, India stands to loose close to 150,000 to 200,000 jobs in the next two years as Botswana, Namibia and South African centers take off. De Beers’ London arm, DTC London’s managing director, Varda Shine, also told the conference that most of the diamond activities are moving to Gaborone and they are strongly in support of the beneficiation process that is taking place in Southern Africa.