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Botswana’s diamond beneficiation hits a snag

A dark cloud hangs menacingly over the future of Botswana’s nascent diamond beneficiation and the truth must be told and credit given where it is due.  The future of the project hangs in the balance and its failure seems predetermined because of inherent structural problems, choice of the most risky and least profitable part of the diamond value chain, and lack of support and ownership of the idea from those tasked with the responsibility of spearheading it.

Diamond cartel, De Beers, motivated by greed and self-interest and opposed to diamond beneficiation from the onset, seems to have found a perfect opportunity to give Botswana a rope to hang and assured the ultimate demise of Botswana’s attempt at diamond value add.

More importantly, Botswana and other diamond producing countries have missed the boat and been overtaken by events simply because the global diamond industry has changed drastically in the recent past.  Diamond players are no longer content with concentrating their business on a single segment of the diamond value chain.

Diamond producers such as Botswana agitating for beneficiation, should have learned a long time ago that cutting and polishing are very risky segments of the business not without their own fundamental problems. Now best practices globally now are for more consolidation characterized by more vertical and horizontal integration along the whole diamond value chain.

Cutting and polishing segment is globally the least profitable realizing the lowest profit margins with some companies earning as little as 1-2 percent, while by comparison, upstream (mining and exploration) and downstream end of the value chain enjoy the highest profits margins of 16- 20 percent and 11 percent to 14 percent respectively.


Some things just did not add up from the beginning and it has never been difficult to discern that the project was not conceived in good faith. There was a lot of hostility at project conceptualization by and between Botswana government and De Beers who over decades were vehemently opposed to any calls for diamonds beneficiation dismissing them as both unworkable and illusionary and rubbishing everyone who dared advance a contrary view.

De Beers and their supporters in government and sections of the media pushed the anti-beneficiation paradigm with much vigor seeking to lock Botswana permanently relegated as a backward factor driven, and nineteen century mercantilist styled economy selling its diamond raw in the international market while De Beers, trying by all means to keep Botswana in the dark by parroting anti-beneficiation propaganda while it alone participated globally in all stages of the diamond value chain.

De Beers’ motive was clear according to diamond industry expert Chaim Even Zohar because, "historically Botswana provided up to two-thirds of De Beers profits. In all fairness, one can fully understand that the cartel went to any length to protect its interests, though it is hard to approve its methods".



There is therefore,  a dichotomy that that the very staunch opponents of diamond beneficiation have now assumed the responsibility spearheading the very idea they were opposed to all along and even rubbished anyone who dared to advance opposite view. 

There appears to be an unavoidable coincidence between the instability and uncertainty surrounding Botswana's belated and faltering attempts at diamond beneficiation and De Beers' historical opposition and disdain. Diamond beneficiation proceeded without thorough due diligence, choice of suitable, experienced and capable equity partner with a strong track record in diamond beneficiation.

De Beers was deeply conflicted and was never the right choice. Just as any project of that magnitude would require a social and environmental impact assessment, so too was a human resources impact assessment required but omitted in order to determine the number and appropriate skills mix to support the project.

So no concerted training to deliver the necessary skills mix was done nor were any training institutions identified to provide targeted and appropriate training in all aspects of gemology, either locally or abroad. Instead, heavy reliance was put on the benevolence of outsiders and imported workers in critical areas at high cost to the nation rather than the enterprise of citizens.


It is therefore no wonder that the beneficiation was programmed to fail from the onset because of lack of ownership and conviction from those tasked with its implementation and to make the idea work. De Beers derived huge and disproportionate benefits from the status quo and from the Botswana diamond industry in general and it was not surprisingly it had strong interest to keep things that way.

While De Beers globally participates in all stages along the diamond value chain, the greatest share of the value of the world diamond production it handles are derived from Botswana yet the company abused this privilege by seeking to hoodwink its leadership by hook or crook to perpetually  lock her in the relatively inconsequential and less profitable mining and rough diamond aggregation and sales.


By contrast, Paul Rowley De Beers' executive Vice President of global sightholder sales let the cat out the bag recently when he told the Dubai Diamond Conference in April that De Beers was active in throughout the diamond pipeline, through targeted investment in diamond equity at the retail end, midstream in rough diamond sales and distribution and in mining expansion.

"At De Beers, we continue to make investments throughout the value chain that we believe will drive our success in the years ahead and all participants in the diamond industry have a chance to of likewise".



Logic dictates that it is simply unbelievable that those who were so vehemently opposed to the beneficiation of Botswana diamonds, namely De Beers and Botswana government supported by some conservative sections of the media and who thoroughly discredited and rubbished anyone who held a contrary view would now by any stretch imagination be convincingly tasked with the responsibility of spearheading the implementation of the very idea they had thoroughly discredited.

For decades both De Beers and Botswana claimed that beneficiation was not feasible and that Botswana, a world leading diamond producer of the best quality diamonds by value did not enjoy any comparative and competitive advantage other things being equal.



They shied away from the stark reality that the mark-up of diamonds increases exponentially as it passes through the value chain. Beneficiation is the creation of activities beyond mining the natural resource in producing countries as a means of adding value. Out of the ground, rough diamonds move through the pipeline from dealers to diamond cutters and polishers, to jewelry manufacturers, retail stores and finally to consumers.

According to authoritative diamond industry report Bain and Company, the value of diamond increases significantly as they move along the diamond chain from the mine to the final market, nearly quintuple over the course of the journey.

The great value – US$25 billion or more in both cases is added at the jewelry manufacturing and retail stages, Jewelry manufacturing is estimated at approximately 65% of the retail sales based on historic average.

By way of illustration, Bain and Company when rough diamond production generates revenues of $14.8 billion, the revenue will grow to $47.2 billion when the diamonds are manufactured into jewelry and grow again to $72 billion when the jewelry is sold at retail, quoting IDEX; Tacy Ltd and Chaim Even-Zohar and Diamond Value Chain of 2010.

Maximizing return on assets of rough diamonds very valuable but the ending price of diamond jewelry is worth much more, according to mining academic Rudnicka (2010).

The trend in the world is to shorten the supply chain between the rough coming out of the mine and the shop window through vertical and horizontal integration of the production value chain. By way of example, Rudincka says, Lev Leviev, chairman of Leviev Group of Companies, controls the biggest pit mine, is the world's largest polisher and cutter of diamonds, and own Leviev boutique in London and New York.

De Beers owns diamond shops in London, Paris, Tokyo and Los Angeles (Doulton, 2006). Tiffany and Co for the last 172 years avoided cutting and polishing its own diamonds, but has since decided to move backwards in the supply chain.

In 2002, it began opening cutting and polishing plants in Canada, Belgium, South Africa and Vietnam and later adding operations in China and Mauritius (O'Connely, 2009). Harry Winston Diamond Corp, now owns 40% of Davitz Diamond mine in Canada and retail stores in New York, Paris, Tokyo and planned to open others in the United States, Beijing and Hong Kong.


This has given the company access to the more profitable ends of the diamond value chain – the contract wholesale and retail business because the highest potential for profit lies in retail, because as a rough diamond moves from the mines, it increases exponentially by 320 percent at retail (Covert, 2007).

Bains and Company argue that diamond jewelry manufacturing and retail is the highest level of production that many countries aspire to upgrade to and manufacturing centers hold a lot of power in the final distribution of diamonds which has the highest potential for profit. 

Although rough diamond production remains the most lucrative in terms of profit margins estimated at between 16 -20 percent, the only other segment that generates comparable margins is retail, where large chains such as Tiffany and Company and Cartier can archive margins of 11-14 percent. 



Concentrating on mining alone is outdated on the evidence of diamond industry experts and policy makers. To meet the challenges of getting adequate supplies of the right mix of diamond jewelry, some large retailers have extended their operations upstream, investing in mines and in cutting and polishing companies. Tiffany and Company is one retailer who had made such and investment.

Hong Kong Chow Tai Fook, the world's largest vertically integrated jeweler and has responded to the supply challenge by securing long term supply contracts with ALROSA to supplement earlier agreements with De Beers and Rio Tinto. About half of the polished diamonds used in Chow Tai Fook jewelry were produced in-house.

Chow Tai Fook, and Tiffany and Company have already invested in mining operations and integrated backward by acquiring mines and eventually middle market operations. As rough diamond sales are likely to decline, the victim of consolidation will be cutting and polishing firms.

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Business

Slight growth in GDP as economy battles return

28th July 2021
Peggy-Serame

Botswana’s economy showed slight growth signs in the first quarter of 2021, following a devastating year in 2020.

During 2020, the entire second quarter was on zero economic activity as the country went on total lockdown in an effort to curb the spread of the virus.

Diamond trade plummeted to record low levels as global travel restrictions halted movement of both goods and people and muted trade.

The end result was a significant decline for the local economy, at an estimated 7 percent contraction, just marginally below the 2008/09 global financial crises.

According to figures released by Statics Botswana this week, the country’s nominal Gross Domestic Product for the first quarter of 2021 was P47.739 billion compared to a revised P45.630 billion registered during the previous quarter.

This represents a quarterly increase of 4.6 percent in nominal terms between the two periods.

During the quarter, Public Administration and Defence became the major contributor to GDP by 18.4 percent, followed by Wholesale & Retail by 11.4 percent. The contribution of other sectors was below 6.0 percent, with Water and Electricity Supply being the lowest at 1.6 percent.

Real GDP for the first quarter of 2021 increased by 0.7 percent compared to a contraction of 4.6 percent registered in the previous quarter.

The improvement in the first quarter 2021 GDP reflected continued efforts to reopen businesses and resume activities that were postponed or restricted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The real GDP increased by 0.7 percent during the period under review, compared to an increase of 1.2 percent in the same quarter of 2020.

The recovery in the domestic economy was observed across majority of industries except Accommodation & Food Services, Mining & Quarrying, Manufacturing, Construction, Other Services and Agriculture, Forestry & Fishing.

The overall slow performance of the economy was mainly due to the impact of measures that were put in place to combat the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Non-mining GDP increased by 4.1 percent in the first quarter of 2021 compared to 4.0 percent increase registered in the same quarter of the previous year.

Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing industry decreased by 2.0 percent in real value added during the first quarter of 2021, relative to a contraction of 5.2 percent registered during the same quarter of 2020.

The main driver of the unfavorable performance stems from a decrease in real value added of Livestock farming by 3.0 percent.

Mining and Quarrying registered a decrease 11.4 percent in the real value added, this was mainly influenced by the drop in the Gold and Diamond real value added by 17.5 and 12.5 percent respectively.

Diamond production in carats went down by 12.1 percent while the tonnage of Gold produced went down by 17.5 percent.

The poor performance of the diamond sub-industry is attributed to the reduction in production due to a lower grade feed to the plant at Orapa in response to heavy rainfall and operational issues, including continued power supply disruptions.

With regard to Gold is due to diminishing resource base which affect production.

The Manufacturing industry recorded a decline of 7.4 percent in real value added during the first quarter of 2021, compared to a decrease of 2.3 percent registered in the corresponding quarter of 2020.

The deep low performance in the industry is observed in the two major sub-industries of Beverages & tobacco and Diamond cutting, polishing and setting by 57.0 and 38.5 percent respectively.

The reduction in Beverages is attributed to alcohol sale ban imposed during the quarter under review in order to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus. On the other hand, exports of polished diamonds went down by 24.9 percent compared to a decrease of 11.5 percent registered in the same quarter of the previous year.

The construction industry recorded a decline of 4.8 percent compared to an increase of 4.3 percent realized in the corresponding quarter in 2020.

This industry comprises of buildings construction, civil engineering and specialized construction activities. The industry is still showing signs of the consequences of COVID-19 pandemic. The industry recorded a negative growth of 7.4 percent in the previous quarter.

Water and Electricity Water and Electricity value added at constant 2016 prices for the first quarter of 2021 was P506.2 million compared to P378.2 million registered in the same quarter of 2020, recording a growth of 33.8 percent.

In the first quarter of 2021, Electricity recorded a significant growth of 62.4 percent compared to a decrease of 67.6 percent recorded in the corresponding quarter of 2020.

The local electricity production increased by 22.4 percent while Electricity imports decreased by 33.3 percent during quarter under review. The water industry recorded a value added of P231.3 million compared to P209.0 million registered in the same quarter of the previous year, registering an increase of 10.7 percent.

Wholesale and Retail Trade real value added increased by 11.4 percent in the first quarter of 2021 compared to an increase of 5.5 percent registered in the same quarter of the previous year. The industry deals with sales of fast moving consumer goods.

Diamond Traders recorded a significant growth of 112.7 percent as opposed to a decline of 22.7 percent recorded in the corresponding quarter last year. The positive growth is due to improved demand of diamonds from the global market.

The Transport and Storage value added increased by 0.6 percent in the first quarter of 2021, compared to a 2.4 percent increase recorded in the same quarter of the previous year.

The slight improved performance of the industry was mainly attributed to the increase in real value added of Road Transport and Post & Courier Services by 4.3 and 2.1 percent respectively.

The slow growth was influenced by a significant reduction in Air Transport services of 69.7 percent due to reduced number of passengers carried. Rail goods traffic in tonnes went down by 6.4 percent and passenger rail transport was not operating during the quarter under review.

Accommodation and Food Services Accommodation and Food Services real value added declined by 31.7 percent in the first quarter of 2021 compared to a decrease of 4.4 percent registered in the same quarter of the previous year. The reduction is largely attributed to a decrease of 42.1 percent in real value added of the Accommodation activities subindustry.

The suspension of air travel occasioned by Covid-19 containment measures impacted on the number of tourists entering the borders of the country and hence affecting the output of Hotels and Restaurants industry. COVID-19 restriction measures resulted in reduced demand for leisure and conferencing activities, as conferences are largely held through virtual platforms.

Finance, Insurance and Pension Funding industry registered a positive growth of 8.3 percent due to the favorable performance from monetary intermediation and Central Banking Services by 16.4 and 5.4 percent respectively during quarter under review.

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Business

Chobe Holdings secures P16 million for dark days

28th July 2021
Chobe Holdings

It is still tough in the tourism industry — big players in this sleeping giant are not having it easy, but options are being explored to keep the once vibrant multibillion Pula sector alive until the world gets back to normalcy.

One of the primary measures against the spread of Covid-19 is to stay home; this widely pronounced precaution against the global contagion that has claimed over 4 million lives across the world is however a thorn in the flesh of one of the major industries in the global economy — the tourism sector .

This sector is underpinned by travel – an act which is the virus‘ number one mode of spread, especially across borders.

Chobe Holdings Limited, one of Botswana’s leading high end eco-tourism giants said its survival strategies are underpinned by well-crafted stakeholder engagements in the mist of these unprecedented times of muted trading activity.

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Chobe continued to invest in and strengthen its relationships with key stakeholders in both its traditional markets and the SADC region,” the company directors updated shareholders this week.

To keep the business afloat, the company which owns and operates some of the exquisite tourism destinations along the banks of the mighty Chobe said it has triggered its existing available debt financing avenues.

Chobe revealed that its current overdraft of BWP 25 million has been extended on favourable terms.

The company shared that it has negotiated a further USD 1.5 million (over P16 million) standby loan with a flexible settlement terms and preferable cost implications to the bottom line.

“We are confident that the Group has sufficient cash inflows, cash reserves and un-utilized prearranged borrowing in place to settle any liabilities falling due and support the smooth recovery of operations in the short and medium term,” the company directors said, noting that they will retain the flexibility to vary operations should market conditions change.

Early this year, Chobe announced that the ongoing crisis in the tourism industry forced the company to draw from its prearranged overdraft facility of P25 million to the extent of P11.6 million.

Last year Chobe’s occupancy levels around its lodges and hotels went down 89 percent. This resulted in unprecedented revenue decline of 93% to P27.78 million from the P373.94 million in the previous year ended February 2020.

Operating profits went down 159% with profit after tax down 170%, mirroring a loss of over P67 million.

Chobe management said during the last half of the financial year they have done all they could to contain costs across the company’s operations.

During the last half of the year Chobe’s marketing and reservations teams continued to pursue the “don’t cancel but defer policy”.

“We thus continue to hold advance travel receipts, to the value of about P34 million at the financial year end,” the company revealed early this year.

Chobe said it continues to engage Government, through HATAB and BTO to prioritize the vaccination of workers in the tourism sector.

“Throughout the pandemic we have ensured that employees are trained in and comply with COVID-19 infection mitigation protocols as well as ensuring that all visitors to our remote camps and lodges as well as our staff and contractors are tested for COVID-19 before reaching the camp or lodges,” the company said.

However, the company said vaccinating the tourism staff will provide the best way to ensure that both employees and guests are protected from the virus.

“We continue to manage our cashflow through stringent cost control measures, balanced against the protection of the Group’s physical assets and the wellbeing and retention of its people,” the company said.

Chobe has successfully retained its top management through the pandemic.  To this end the company directors continue to closely monitor the Group’s recovery from COVID-19 and adjust salary reductions to support operations and aid retention.

Domestic and regional travel resumed during the second quarter of the 2020/21 financial year with the Group opening a strategic mix of camps and lodges.

A comprehensive domestic, regional and international marketing plan was put in place to support these openings.

International travel resumed in the first quarter of the 2021/22 financial year with occupancies forecast to steadily increase, albeit from a low base, through the second quarter.

The company is optimistic that forward bookings are strong for the 2022/23 financial year.

“There is pent-up demand from our traditional source markets to travel now, but this is tempered by uncertainty and access constraints,” the company stated.

“Both the domestic and international markets are sensitive to such uncertainty, and it is critical that both the private and public sector work together to develop and publish clear, authoritative and consistent travel information in order to build confidence”

Chobe entered the pandemic with the Shinde camp rebuild in progress — one of its high end camps and this was completed in the first half of the 2020/21 financial year accounting for the majority of the Group’s capital expenditure for that period.

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Business

De Beers Q2 production jumps in response to strong rough diamond demand

28th July 2021
De-Beers -jwaneng-mine

De Beers Group, the world’s leading rough diamonds producer by value and Botswana’s partner in the diamond business, ramped up its production in the second quarter of 2021, in response to stronger demand for rough diamonds in the global markets.

The London headquartered diamond mining giant revealed in its production report this week that rough diamonds output  increased by 134% to 8.2 million carats in the three(3) months  of quarter 2 2021, “reflecting planned higher production to meet stronger demand for rough diamonds”.

This was against the backdrop of curtailed demand in the same quarter last year, mirroring the impact of Covid-19 lockdowns across southern Africa during that period.

In Botswana, where De Beers sources majority of its rough diamonds through partly government owned Debswana, production increased by 214% to 5.7 million carats. The percentage jump mirrored planned low production in the second quarter of 2020 where output was adjusted to market demands and implemented Covid-19 protocols.

Debswana operates four (4) Mines: Jwaneng Mine- being its flagship producer and largest revenue contributor. Jwaneng Mine which is the wealthiest diamond mine in the world by value is envisaged for multi-billion expansion to an underground operation in future to stretch its existence by few more decades.

The underground project which is anticipated to cost a whooping P65 billion will be the world‘s largest underground diamond mine.

The company which accounts for over 65 % of De Beers’s global production also operates Orapa Mine- one of the world’s largest by area, Letlhakane Mine currently a tailings treatment operation and Damtshaa Mine which is under care and maintenance following market shrink in 2020.

Namibia production decreased by 6% to 0.3 million carats, primarily due to planned maintenance of the Mafuta vessel which was completed in the quarter and another vessel remaining demobilized.  In Namibia De Beers sources diamonds both in land and marine through Namdeb and Debmarine respectfully.

In South Africa-the spiritual home ground of De Beers Group, production increased by 130% to 1.3 million carats, due to planned treatment of higher grade ore from the final cut of the Venetia open pit, as well as the impact of the Covid-19 lockdown in Q2 2020.

Production in Canada increased by 14% to 0.9 million carats, primarily reflecting the impact of the Covid-19 measures implemented in Q2 2020.

De Beers said consumer demand for polished diamonds continued to recover, leading to strong demand for rough diamonds from midstream cutting and polishing centers, despite the impact on capacity from the severe Covid-19 wave in India during April and May.

Rough diamond sales totaled 7.3 million carats (6.5 million carats on a consolidated basis), from two Sights, reflecting the impact of the reduced Indian midstream capacity on Sight 4, compared with 0.3 million carats (0.2 million carats on a consolidated basis) from two Sights in Q2 2020, and 13.5 million carats (12.7 million carats on a consolidated basis) from three Sights in Q1 2021.

The H1 2021 consolidated average realized price increased by 13% to $135/ct (H1 2020: $119/ct), driven by an increased proportion of higher value rough diamonds sold.

While the average price index remained broadly flat, the closing index increased by 14% compared to the start of 2021, reflecting tightness in inventories across the diamond value chain as well as positive consumer demand for polished diamonds.

Full Year Guidance Production guidance is tightened to 32–33 million carats (previously 32-34 million carats (100% bases)), subject to trading conditions and the extent of any further Covid-19 related disruptions.

When commenting to 2021 quarter 2 production figures, Mark Cutifani, Chief Executive of Anglo American- De Beers parent, said the entire Anglo American Group delivered a solid operational performance supported by comprehensive Covid-19 measures to help safeguard the lives and livelihoods of its workforce and host communities.

“We have generally maintained operating levels at approximately 95% of normal capacity and, as a consequence, production increased by 20% compared to Q2 of last year, with planned higher rough diamond production at De Beers” he said.

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