CIEE students often have the opportunity to experience many cultural aspects of life in Botswana. However, we don't want them to leave Botswana without the understanding of the important economic impact of diamonds on the economy.
Here's what's in this issue:
By 5:30 in the morning, CIEE students, student volunteers and staff were on our way to the Jwaneng Diamond Mine.
Students waited in the bus at the gate while staff went in to collect the tickets and make sure everything was set up for the tour
The security was tight at the gate. There were cameras everywhere, as well as security guards that checked IDs. Anyone who wanted to enter the mine had to report to the security office and have prior clearance. After everyone received their tickets to get into the mine, we crossed over through the gate and got into our transport for the first part of the tour.
We were welcomed into the beautiful foyer of the Public and Corporate Affairs building. The far wall shows photos of visitors and workers in the mine, as well as Debswana's 5 values: Be Passionate, Pull Together, Build Trust, Show We Care, and Shape the Future.
The 5 Debswana values
Lexy, Tarikwa, Dana and Mariana got coffee on their way into the board room for our talk on the history of mining operations in Botswana.
We were officially welcomed to the Jwaneng Mine around 9:00 by Mr. Allan Molefhe. He was very knowledgeable from his combined 9 years of experience, first at the headquarters in Gaborone and the last 3 years, at Jwaneng. He was well-versed in everything from the history of the company to the mechanical inner workings of every aspect of mining operations.
We learned that Debswana is a 50/50 partnership between De Beers and the Government of Botswana that began in 1968. Diamonds were discovered in Botswana in 1967 by geologists from De Beers, one year after Botswana received its independence from the United Kingdom. The first mines were founded in the northern part of Botswana, at Orapa in 1971 and Letlhakane in 1975. Diamonds were discovered in what would become the Jwaneng mine in 1972, but the mine was the last to be established, in 1978.
Official opening of the Jwaneng Mine on August 14, 1982. Photo from the Debswana web site at: https://www.debswana.com/About%20Debswana/Pages/HistoryAndProfile.aspx
CIEE students and other visitors to the mine listening in on Mr. Molefhe's talk
The students were fascinated by the intricacies of the mine and its affect on the Botswana economy. Mr. Molefhe told us that the Jwaning Mine is the richest diamond mine in the world by value. Debswana produces more than 30 million carats a year (22% of the world's diamond output), and 60-70% of that comes from Jwaneng. In terms of the Botswana economy, diamonds produce 80% of foreign exports, 50% of government income and 30% of gross domestic product (GDP). The mine makes so much revenue that one month's profits are enough to pay for operations for an entire year.
Adam reading the booklet that we were given, which explains a history of Debswana, the stages of mining and particulars of choosing the quality of the diamond;
Keely, Lily, Amanda, Alec, Mackenzie, Kirsten and Kathiana in the background
These safety precautions were absolutely necessary because our tour guides didn't want any guests to be injured while in the mine. Jwaneng Mine is one of the safest mines in the world, with one of the lowest disabling injury incident rates in Botswana. They have achieved this because of the safety measures put into place. For instance, to improve visibility, the smaller trucks around the mine use elevated caution signs and drive 50 meters behind the larger trucks so that they do not get run over. In the case of any fatalities, the mine is shut down, which would mean a huge slash in revenue. Managers of the mine want to do everything they can to try to prevent that.
The mad dash to get the correct sizes!
Gaone (student volunteer) and Dana putting shoes on
The whole group in our safety garb!
After putting on the necessary clothing and protective gear, we headed out into the mine. The entire time, Mr. Molefhe was telling us about the process to extract the diamonds from the ground. Workers in the mine use dynamite to break up millions of tonnes of ore in order to locate the diamonds within the kimberlite. The tonnes of dirt are then moved to the primary crusher and crushed into small sized rocks. The blasting times are well publicized so that everyone knows to get out of the pit by a certain time. This focus on safety is a cornerstone of mine operations in all aspects.
Kenny (student volunteer) and CIEE students Nahara and Tarikwa with some of the processing plants in the background
Lily, Adam and Kelly
After we all posed for pictures right after getting into the mine, we drove all around, getting a glimpse of all of the different buildings that are integral to the diamond extraction process. There were signs with safety tips throughout. We then made our way to the pit. The Jwaneng Mine is an open pit of 350 meters. Mr. Molefhe told us that the mine is expected to double in depth within the next 20 years.
The pit is absolutely massive, as shown. Photo taken from Debswana website, https://www.debswana.com/Operations/Pages/Introduction.aspx
Program Assistant Amelia Plant, student volunteers Kenny, Lusuire and Kuda, and CIEE students Kathiana, Keely, Katie, Kirsten, Kelly, Lily and Adam
Mr. Molefhe continued to tell us about the diamond extraction process. After going through the crusher, the resulting particles are moved into the Main Treatment Plant. Here, the dirt and clay particles are removed, and the resulting ore is screened and washed to separate the diamond particles from the waste. To maintain strict security, the final diamond recovery takes place in the Completely Automated Recovery Plant (CARP). Then the diamonds are sorted, cleaned, weighed and packaged in the Fully Integrated Sorthouse (FISH). All of the employees that directly handle the diamonds are strip-searched every time they leave the facilities.
After this process, the diamonds are sent to the Diamond Trading Company (DTC) based in Gaborone. At this point, they are still rough stones and still need to be cut and polished. As the ability to mine the diamonds decreases in the next 30 years, Mr. Molefhe said that they are pursuing options to increase the diamond manufacturing sector in Botswana.
How do they transport hundreds of tonnes of ore, you may ask? Well, we were soon to find out.
These massive trucks cost $30 million--the wheels alone cost $25,000 and must be replaced every 6 months. We felt like we were in a Transformers film.
Nahara, Anandi, Amanda, Kenny, Tarikwa and Lily got to pretend to drive the truck
We had a great trip at the Jwaneng Diamond mine!
Until next time, sala sentle (stay well)!