Jwaneng Mine, which is one of the world’s richest mines, is looking beyond diamonds to sustain the Jwaneng township even after diamond activity has stopped.
This is because while the Jwaneng Mine will transition from an open pit to an underground operation in 2033 to dig for more minerals, at some point diamond production will come to a complete halt.
“So far I want to tell you that the total reserves of diamonds we have mined is 58 percent,” the General Manager of Jwaneng Mine, Koolatotse Koolatotse, told the media during a tour of the mine this week. “Botswana is left with 42 percent of the diamond assets.”
According to Koolatotse, in terms of strategy, Debswana has three phases or three horizons of the business. There is Horizon One, which is the business of today; Horizon Two, which is the business mining of tomorrow; and Horizon Three, which is what the company intends to do beyond the life of diamonds to prevent Jwaneng from becoming a ghost town.
Debswana is aligning itself with the government’s Reset Agenda which acts as a vehicle to achieve the objectives of Vision 2036. “It is very important that we align with this vehicle to make sure that there is a future beyond diamonds,” Koolatotse said, adding that Debswana measures itself with the impact it makes on people’s lives.
“Results without impact is poetry effort without results horseplay,” he said. “You are not doing anything for the nation. We believe that if you put in more effort, you should get more results and use those results to impact the lives of people. That is the secret of how we mine.”
He disclosed that Jwaneng Mine was the only operation within the Group that met its target during the surge of the deadly COVID-19 Delta variant, showing commitment to preserving the lives of Batswana.
Strength and resilience
“Taxes and tourism could not make money because there was no travel,” he said. “Therefore, the only people who could make money were Jwaneng. We had no choice but to make money, and we did.”
Koolatotse believes this is where Jwaneng Mine showcased strength and resilience in what it does. “So we resemble a diamond in these aspects and attributes of our character.”
Debswana Diamond Company – which owns and operates Jwaneng Mine and Orapa, Letlhakane, and Damtshaa (OLDM) mines – was incorporated in 1969 as a partnership between the Government of Botswana and the De Beers Mining Company on a 50/50 basis.
Botswana also owns 15 percent of De Beers while the remainder is in the hands of Anglo-American, the diversified global mining giant. Because of these relationships, Debswana has combined the visions of both shareholders and devised one that stands for the Government of Botswana’s Vision 2036 and the De Beers’ Building Forever strategy, which the company says is all about people, the planet, and provenance.
“The Building Forever strategy for 2024 is a vehicle through which we will create P10 billion extra value for the shareholders,” Koolatotse said. Jwaneng was allocated P3.5 billion in savings, Orapa P3.5 billion, while the remainder went to the head office. As at the end of June, Jwaneng Mine has hit the P3.5 billion mark in terms of savings and is now at P3.7 billion.
“That tells you the story of our resilience – when the market goes down, we behave in a manner suitable for the market being down,” Koolatotse explained. For instance, he added, the team was due to go to Cape Town for a strategy meeting, but when the memo came that the market was subdued, the trip was cancelled.
“This was leading by example,” he noted. “We met as the exco and decided to terminate that trip as going would not be setting a good example.” Jwaneng Mine drives 80 percent of the revenue for Debswana and 70 percent of De Beers’ production. “So we drive the economy of both De Beers and the country,” the GM said.
Human and social development
The human and social development aspect of the business shows diversity and inclusion at its best. Stating this, Koolatotse said this is because 99.9 percent of Debswana diamonds are bought for or by women. “Either way, the common denominator is a woman,” he pointed out. “Therefore, if women are our customers, what are we doing to empower them?”
At Jwaneng Mine, he said, 45 percent of leadership positions are occupied by women and 55 percent by men. “Where we were trailing behind was in the space of lower employees, the workers themselves, in particular the operators,” he explained. “We were sitting at 6 percent in that area.” But after realising that 100 percent of cleaners at Jwaneng Mine are women, the company decided to train all of them for machines and their salaries have multiplied 10-fold.
“We had to think of a way of empowering a woman,” he asserted. “We did that, and today we are sitting at 91 employees who have been trained in machines. We have absorbed 30 of them into Debswana and Naledi Mining Services to mine diamonds.”
The intention, he added, is to empower them until there is no one without a licence to operate. While there is no guarantee that Debswana will absorb all of them, the idea is that they will be absorbed by the industry in Botswana. “The intention is to empower 100 every year but we are not assuring them that they will get employment,” Koolatotse said. “We are assuring them they will get the competency to operate.”
In addition, Debswana has committed to empowering differently-abled people. “Going into the future in terms of mining, we are not employing hands,” the GM of Jwaneng Mine said. “We have tools that can be instructed to facilitate production and efficiency.”
In this regard, the thinking is that if one has a brain, one can work for Debswana because there is enough work. This is supported by the current employment figure of 84 differently-disabled people, 13 of whom are in wheelchairs while 11 are virtually impaired “We will have 100 before Christmas,” declared Koolatotse.
Jwaneng Mine is also involved in various community projects in which each member of the exco team has adopted a village. “For instance, the health department is in charge of Pitseng Village and even partners are playing along. We find this to be very effective,” Koolatotse said. Jwaneng Mine is also involved in empowering the girl child to cultivate the interest of girls in the industry. “We are starting to bring up the girl child,” he said. “We need to start from the roots and recruit as many young girls as possible to become engineers.”
Through the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) caveat, Jwaneng is sponsoring the children through a programme called Jwaneng Marananyane Bokamoso. Through its corporate affairs office, Jwaneng Mine has empowered 300 young women in weaving using waste materials. Said Koolatotse: “We have empowered them and brought hope into their lives.”
According to the General Manager, Jwaneng Mine is 21 percent up in terms of revenue. By the time the market became subdued, the mine had made sales, hence the 21 percent increase. It also achieved a cash cost of 10 percent savings, which was attained through leading by example.
Carats sold were up 4 percent before the market became subdued this month. “So for the next three months, we will see that 21 percent decline but we will finish the year positive,” Koolatse said. Known as “the prince of mines,” Koolatotse said the mine holds Position One regionally for safety and has won the Afrisafe award continentally.
“We have been the defending champions for the last four years when it comes to productivity,” he says. “This is a well-run mine by Batswana and even the community is responding.” With the mine set to transition to underground operations to extend its lifespan by 20 years, Koolatotse acknowledged they are under pressure but are making progress to ensure that there is no revenue gap.
Chasing the revenue gap
“If Jwaneng Mine gives you P30 billion a year, it would cost the government if a year passed without production and the economy would be on its knees,” he pointed out.
“So we are focused on chasing the revenue gap. We are on track, and every time we fall behind by a week or days, we make a mitigation plan to make sure that we align it.”
But the decision is not yet made regarding the form of financing the transition to underground – whether it will be through debt financing or equity. Koolatotse said what is certain – and important – is that when the mine goes underground, new skills sets will be needed. “At the moment we are dependent on operators, mining engineers, and metallurgists,” he noted.
“In the future, because we will be going underground from 2033, we are going to need ventilation engineers, refrigeration technicians, refrigeration mechanics and civil engineers. We are busy engaging with Team Jwaneng and other stakeholders on how the mine should look like in the future.”
Meanwhile, Jwaneng Mine has devised contingency plans for life beyond diamonds. “We have identified four critical resources in Jwaneng,” Koolatotse disclosed. “The mine intends to have an infrastructure capable of slaughtering 1.2 million sheep by 2036.”
The underlying vision is to transform Jwaneng into a food security hub for Botswana. Another plan is solar energy which Koolatotse described as the best in the region of Jwaneng. Solar energy is already in use in parts of the mine, and the intention is to harness and spread it further. Jwaneng Mine also intends to develop tourism offerings to sustain the town beyond diamonds. “We already have a park that has animals as we become a tourist-focused area and already have the skills,” said the GM. “With these resources, running out of diamonds will not scare us. We will have enough to substitute a diamond in the future.”
Koolatotse emphasised that they are intentional about ensuring that what happened in Selibe-Phikwe is not repeated in Jwaneng. He was referring to the sudden closer of BCL Mine at the end of 2016 that rendered 1600 people jobless overnight. Because the economy of the entire mining town of Selebi-Phikwe and the north-western region of Botswana revolved around the copper-nickel mine, aftershocks from the events of 2016 are still being felt today. “It is a stand that we take that Jwaneng will not become a ghost town,” Koolatotse said.