Wednesday, April 14, 2021

“De Beers should not be allowed to run Debswana”

By Kenako Reteng Reabona

Open letter to Dr. Tombale and Mr. Ian Khama

I am unable to disclose my name at this stage, but I am a senior engineer at Debswana.

 First of all, I would like to thank the Sunday Standard for its boldness and for persistently investigating and writing articles and stories that, in the recent past, were deemed unpalatable to print.

Debswana and De Beers were regarded as one where De Beers did as it wished with the blessing of government. Any negative reporting on De Beers would have been met with anger and seen as coming from those who were bent on sabotaging the good economy of this country.

De Beers was a sacred cow in Botswana and could not be criticised openly. I am glad people are beginning to start questioning. This is a good sign and will make Debswana an independent national company that must account directly to Batswana who are part shareholders.

The skewed relationship towards De Beers must be strongly challenged and must not be tolerated.
The Sunday Standard is now joining Todd Majaye who has been a lone voice against the irregular management of Debswana by De Beers.

Batswana for far too long have been denied opportunities to make a real meaningful contribution in the running of Debswana. The few Batswana in management positions were silenced as speaking out was deemed disloyal and was indeed career limiting.

Todd was one of the few who could not stand this and exited to give himself a platform to speak his mind in the interest of this country.

Now it is heartening to hear that the government of Botswana has foiled attempts by De Beers to get management contract to run Debswana.

This would have meant allowing Debswana to be run down as has happened in the past. Well done Dr. Tombale and Mr. Moshashane for doing the right thing this time. You are beginning to take a stand on the side of Batswana.

You need to get even closer to what is happening in Debswana to save this country from being run from De Beers in South Africa. You need to get Mr. Marole and Rre Makwinja to account to you on how they are running Debswana.

Are they being controlled by De Beers SA? I suspect they are controlled by De Beers. How many management meetings do they have with De Beers and how many do they have with you sir? What do they discuss at these meetings and do they ever report back to you Dr. Tombale?

I must also commend Vice President for standing firm on the side of Debswana and Botswana. Batswana will honour you for this gesture. I also urge you to get closer to Debswana as this is a very important national asset. If you leave Debswana to be run directly or indirectly by De Beers, we will have nothing of significance to show for our diamonds except big holes and dumps when our diamonds dry up. There are currently no serious plans to ensure that the surrounding communities will continue to prosper after the diamonds are gone. We should be investing in some facilities or mini diamond villages in the mining towns that will promote mining tourism. These mini villages could show the history of the mine, the changes in technology and the diamonds it produces. We can promote Botswana as the home of the richest diamond mines in the world. We can have something in these mining areas that will be there even well after mining activities have ceased to exist. The dumps and pits can be used imaginatively as, for example, water sporting facilities, fishing, gardening and others.

You go to Russia now you will see the diamonds that were produced more than 100 years during the Tzar era still making money for the Russians through tourism.

You will see mining museums in mining towns showing technology and mining personnel of old ÔÇô Botswana can learn from other such countries. We must start planning these things now through Debswana.

Another point of interest to ponder! Compare Debswana people related policy initiatives and those at De Beers and you will see some interesting possibilities.

Who controls executive training budgets and who decides who is trained and on what management programme? Carry out an independent assessment of people related issues for yourselves. Find out why people at all levels are leaving the company and the levels of frustrations are going up.

What motivated the new ‘space creation’ policy that is currently run by Debswana? Is it not strange that when Debswana is embarking on so many major projects, a replacement plant at Orapa, a replacement plant at Jwaneng, a dump treatment plant at Letlhakane and many others, a ‘space creation’ policy meant to reduce people is initiated instead of initiating a policy meant to retain people and train more!!

Is it not also interesting that at the same time De Beers is down sizing as most of their mines are running at a loss and are being closed down?

Is ‘space creation’ not really meant to create opportunities for De Beers employees who are about to lose their jobs due to the downsizing? Watch the space!! De Beers will use every trick in the book to run Debswana directly or indirectly to maintain its control.

Let us be vigilant and frustrate De Beers’ obvious domineering tendencies. Botswana has reason to be concerned about the machinations of De Beers in Debswana. De Beers can easily fit a description of ‘a wolf in a sheep’s skin’ and we must not be fooled for ever.

Having worked for Debswana for many years, I know Debswana have many talented, well trained, dedicated and first class engineers and managers. They will do many times better than their De Beers counter parts any day given equal opportunities and support.

For many years, many De Beers engineers in Debswana have been running down the plants only achieving just about 70 % plant operational efficiencies as a norm in the name of cutting operational costs.

Batswana engineers have taken over and all the Debswana plants are now running at well over 80 % efficiency and improving all the time. What a pleasure and Batswana must rest assured that Debswana will do better under 100 % Batswana management.

Debswana has world class managers and leaders and it is high time Botswana government gets closer and partnered closely with Debswana citizen management. There are however those who seem to be employed by De Beers.

Those must be isolated and made to account. We do not need managers from Canada or America after running these mines for nearly 40 years. We do not need short term solutions for Debswana, but long term solutions that will benefit all Batswana as envisaged by our government.

It is also well known that all the major projects done in Debswana were all managed by De Beers. We also know that all these projects were declared complete only to find that they were not and Debswana had to battle using working costs to get the plants to run after De Beers engineers and project managers had declared savings in order to get fat bonuses for themselves.

This was scandalous and we know De Beers will never own up! The Aquarium in Jwaneng and Orapa No. 2 plant are typical examples. These have now been turned around by Batswana managers and engineers. Well done to you people!!

It must be noted that Debswana cannot be compared with De Beers mines in SA. All the Debswana mines run townships, schools, hospitals, transport and others. These cannot be compared to mines that just look after the mining operations. The running costs are simply not comparable.

Debswana must also take pride in its social responsibility and investment programmes. The communities surrounding the Debswana mines and Botswana in general have legitimate expectations to benefit from Debswana operations directly.

These are world class operations by any measure and must demonstrate leadership in social responsibility programmes. Debswana can and should do more for posterity.

De Beers as a shareholder must also be pressured and strongly challenged to help in social responsibility initiatives – not funding the high court library like they did recentlyÔÇô this was very unfortunate and ill timed. They must help build schools and hospitals in rural areas and to train nurses and teachers for these facilities.

This may give us some measure of assurance that they are interested in helping with the development of this country. They must reinvest some of their profits in other areas to assist Botswana in its noble diversification aspirations.

We strongly suspect that De Beers is not interested in helping develop this country.

They simply want to get as much as they can get from our diamonds and then run elsewhere were they can get more money. De Beers is a profit driven company and has no interest whatsoever in assisting in developing this country.

What it is that De Beers can say it has contributed from the proceeds it got from Debswana since 1971? Can somebody mention any such development?

Batswana managers and engineers must now demand to get closer to the diamond business – the revenue and sales areas which have always been so secretively controlled by De Beers to the extent that very few Batswana managers if any even at very senior management level fully appreciate where the revenue comes from.

How can we demand the best value for our diamonds if we do not understand the drivers of this value? We are simply told that this is what we got for our diamonds. For other minerals the value is known and is market driven and all employees are briefed ÔÇô not with our diamonds.

If this is not foolhardy what is it – A 50/50 partnership that is so grossly unequal? The Botswana government must now take a firm stand and act to stop these long standing manipulations by De Beers. De Beers must behave like a shareholder not a manager of Debswana.

We must as Batswana also stand up and demand to take charge of our destiny. I will keep on writing until Debswana is placed under Batswana who are genuinely interested in advancing the cause of Botswana not just that of De Beers.

Batswana who believe in other Batswana and support, them, not Batswana who have publicly stated that there are no Batswana who are ready to run these mines and certainly not Batswana who are busy removing Batswana to ‘create space’ for De Beers people.

I also know that my views represent many of the voiceless and frustrated Debswana employees. I will not reveal my identity as this will be a career limiting move. The time will come for me to do so.
I hope this will prompt some people in leadership positions to take note and act now.

*Kenako Reteng Reabona is a pseudonym. The writer is a senior engineer working for Debswana


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