Monday, September 28, 2020

No Botswana diamonds in Japan

OUTSA MOKONE was in Japan last week and he saw diamonds, diamonds
but no diamonds from the world’s biggest producer- Botswana.

Those are notes from my reporter’s notebook, made two weeks ago in Japan. If they do not make sense to you, it is because nothing makes sense about the Botswana diamond industry. The first entry in my spiral notebook is made from the comfort of my hotel bed. I am watching a Japanese woman, her slim body making tantalizing bulges from a figure hugging black and white mini dress which is a few inches shy of
her knees, revealing yellow thighs. Dripping diamonds from her fingers and neckline, she throws a dart
at the dartboard and hits the bull’s eye, oblivious to starry eyes from smitten Japanese studs ogling at her from over their beer mugs. And the punch line of the Camellia diamond advert running across my television screen asks: “How many carats is your love?”

With Japanese authorities preaching love, in a bid to push up the country’s fertility rate which has fallen to an all time low of 1.25 in 2005 diamond jewelers are buying television time in droves to hitch their advertising campaign on the coattails of the coming lovefest. This means Botswana, which is the biggest diamond producer in the world, is on the lips of every Japanese lover, right? Wrong. In fact, as far as Japanese lovers and jewelers are concerned, there are no diamonds from Botswana in Japan. Botswana has spent millions of Pula in a bid to sell the country’s diamonds, first, through the Diamond for Development campaign and, later, through famous Japanese actor, Rei Kikuyu.

However diamond struck Japanese, who have been sold on to the Botswana diamond campaign and are scouring Tokyo jewelry shops for Botswana diamonds, will be meeting blank stares from the other side of the counter. Most will probably be told “we do not have Botswana diamonds, but we have diamonds from South Africa. It is Botswana’s neighbor.” Now listen to this: I am standing in front of a glass display protecting a haul of diamonds on the 52nd floor of Mori tower where Diamond Trading Company (DTC), Botswana Tourism and The National Museum and Art Gallery are showcasing Botswana’s pride during the recent “Botswana Week” in Japan. I ask the De Beers gentlemen, who is lecturing to an assemblage of curious Japanese men and women, to show me diamonds from Botswana: “This is from Russia”, he says, pointing to a diamond studded neck choker glittering inside the glass display. “All these are from DTC, I can not tell which one is from Botswana”, he says, waving at the rest of the shimmer window-dressing the glass display.

A few minutes later, in one of the luxury brand boutiques on the streets of Tokyo, an elderly Japanese woman standing behind a glass counter shimmering with diamond rings, bracelets, necklaces, brooches and earrings stares at me with a frown and asks me: “Botswana diamonds? What is Botswana diamonds? We only sell diamonds from Russia, India, DTC and South Africa.” She points me to the glittering sign writing on the shop wall that says “Nogizaka Uchihara” scrawled next to a map of Africa with drawings of diamonds at the foot of the map and a caption that says “SA Birth. The brilliance from South Africa.”

The Uchihara Group is the biggest branded jewelry company in Japan and covers the whole jewelry trade from importing and planning to development, wholesale and retail sales. Group President, Nogizaka
Uchihara, told Sunday Standard that the group “establishes strategic marketing and branding.” He says the
Japanese market is responding “extremely well to branded diamonds from South Africa.” South Africa has gone on a massive branding campaign of its diamonds.

Among Asian jewelers who are part of the campaign is Schachter & Namdar Asia who also brands South African diamonds ÔÇô diamonds mined and polished in the country- with country-of-origin authentication. Schachter & Namdar (Pty) Ltd in Johannesburg, is allocated the South African sights from the DTC and has integrated a system to separate its South African polished production completely from that of diamonds with other countries of origin. The company has two brands: “Proudly South African” (since early 2005) and “Brilliant Rose”, (approximately 5 years). The “Proudly South African” campaign was launched in March 2005, and is said to have received good support from the South African government. Retail partners
are provided with a full “Proudly South African” marketing information including a VCD, brochures, and leaflets with educational messages aimed at guiding customers through the process. Consumer-oriented advertising campaigns in individual markets includes: In Hong Kong, print advertisements and editorials in leading consumer magazines; in Singapore and Malaysia, television commercials and advertisements (in local consumer magazines and in-flight publications by national airlines).

Uchihara, who specializes in the “brilliance from South Africa” brand, told Sunday Standard that his next step was to make contact with Botswana authorities so that he can start working on a marketing and branding strategy for Botswana diamonds. Indications are that his attempt to make contact with Botswana authorities failed. He was seen walking out of a meeting organized by DTC where President Festus Mogae was to address Japanese diamantires. Uchihara, his sales manager, Katsuya Nakanishi, and a director of Teemane cutting and polishing company in Serowe were kicked out of the meeting before Mogae arrived.
Environment and Tourism industry minister, Kitso Mokaila who was part of the throng milling outside the conference room, would not explain what was happening. He would not even confirm that he had also been asked out of the meting. Foreign Affairs Minister, Lt Gen Mompati Merafhe, was also spotted walking out with Btv reporters on tow.

Deputy permanent secretary (DPS) in the Ministry of Mineral Energy and Water Resources, Kago Moshashane, told the Sunday Standard that it would be very difficult to brand Botswana diamonds, “Only big gemstones which make a small percentage of our production can be branded. Then what will we do with the small stones that account for a huge percentage of our production.” Moshashane said even those
diamonds that have been branded as South African diamonds were not mined in South Africa. “Some
were probably mined in Botswana and polished in South Africa.”

The same argument was advanced by the head of DTC who was also in Tokyo. Debswana spokesperson, Jacob Sesinyi, was however recently quoted in the Neitherlands media saying all Botswana diamonds can be traced back to the country. “All the diamonds from Botswana are certified through the Kimberley Process Certificate, so there’s proof beyond doubt that these diamonds come from conflict-free areas.”

Schachter & Namdar Asia also maintains that it brands South African diamonds ÔÇô diamonds mined and polished in the country- with country-of-origin authentication. Schachter & Namdar (Pty) Ltd in Johannesburg, says it is allocated the South African sights from the DTC and has integrated a system
to separate its South African polished production completely from that of diamonds with other countries of origin. For now, however, the branding of Botswana diamonds is the least of government’s worries. With the explosion in the number of diamond polishing companies in the country, the industry has suddenly become crowded and doomsayers already see blood on the floor. Government has decided to limit the number of cutting and polishing companies to 15 and 11 have already been licensed with four still under consideration. Insiders say the fledgling industry needs at least 3000 trained cutters and polishers, but so far the country only has less than 800 and industry investors will soon be fighting each other over the small labour pool. Companies that set up in the country first want government to protect them from the new comers who may poach their workers.

Some are even lobbying that they should be given first preference over the new companies when DTC Botswana opens and start selling to local sightholders. Optimists, however say the growth in the number of
sightholders in Botswana should make it easy for the country to brand its diamonds.

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Sunday Standard September 27 – 3 October

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 27 - 3 October, 2020.