Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Man at center of discovery of Botswana’s diamond mines dies

The South African geologist, Dr Gavin Lamont, has died at the age of 87 after a long battle with cancer.

Renowned only as ‘Doc’, Lamont’s leadership tenacity and deep knowledge of geology and of nature contributed to the discovery of the Orapa and Letlhakane diamond mines in 1967, and of the world’s richest mine, Jwaneng, in 1973.

Doc, who passed away last weekend in Somerset West, South Africa, started working in Botswana as a member of the then Bechuanaland Protectorate Department of Geology Survey in 1949. In 1955 he joined the Anglo American Corporation and was seconded to DeBeers to conduct diamond prospecting in Botswana Tuli Block, along the country’s eastern boarder.

Doc pioneered and evolved a series of systematic indicator mineral exploration techniques suited to work in the Kalahari and, despite the initial lack of success, he persevered.
“Doc was a firm believer that mines were to be found not by spending time in town or office, but by ‘boots on the ground’, and careful understanding,” commented DeBeers.

According to a document for DeBeers, the modern geophysical and computer technologies of today were not available to Doc and his team but their exploration successes are yet to be surpassed.

DeBeers said that Doc had a great affinity with the people of Botswana and in September 1977, in recognition of his contribution to the nation, he was awarded the Presidential Order of Honour by President Sir Seretse Khama.

Though Doc was an outstanding mentor and professional guide to his follow-workers in the field, he was at the core a private self-efacing man. In writing about the discoveries at Orapa and Jwaneng, Doc was careful to record the contributions of those who worked with him; Manfred Marx, Jim Gibson, ‘Brot’ Kemang Malema and his brother Eleven and their cousin, Windvoel, Keith Huxham and Guy Lamont.

These discoveries, together with the Government of Botswana’s prudent management of the diamond wealth, set the foundation for the Botswana that we see today ÔÇô the world’s largest producer of diamonds by value and a leading player in the modern diamond industry. These discoveries, which did not come smoothly, came through the remarkable combination of perseverance and innovation.

Lamont was born in Kimberly, South Africa, on the 3rd of November 1920, and was educated at Rondebosch Boys’ High School. In 1938 he commenced studies at the University of Cape town but broke his studies to volunteer for war service in 1939. During the war he distinguished himself in the Special Service Battalion, the long-range Allied desert group operating behind the German lines, until being hurt and sent back to UCT to complete his B.Sc. Degree, which he did in 1941.

From 1942 to 1943, Lamont worked for AECI as a plant superintendent in the cordite plant at Modderfontein Dynamite Factory before furthering his studies at UCT for a M.Sc. Degree in Geology, which he received in 1945 and a PhD in 1947. It was then at UCT where he met and befriended Dr Louis Murray.

On becoming Consulting Geologist to DeBeers in the mid-1960s, Murray supported and encouraged Doc’s then ground breaking work in Botswana, which eventually led to the discoveries of the Orapa and Letlhakane diamond mines and, soon afterwards, Jwaneng.

After 25 years of service in Botswana, which was in 1980, Doc retired to Somerset West in Cape Town, where he settled into retirement with his Toni whom he married in 1949. She passed away in 1982. His son, Guy, and step daughter, Rosemarie, both predeceased him. He is survived by Winnie, his second wife of 25 years.


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