The economic shock occasioned by COVID-19 on the global diamond market has delivered the heaviest blow to Botswana’s wholly state owned Okavango Diamond Company (ODC), the worst since its establishment in 2012.
While other diamond operations across the value chain gradually reopen, ODC will remain closed until diamond market conditions fully recover. This was revealed by Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Mineral Resources, Green Technology & Energy Security, Mmetla Masire this week.
Following a slow year for the global diamond industry in 2019 owing to the US-China trade war, the industry realized a slight upswing in the first month of 2020, spilling over from recovery signs in late 2019.
However all that was reversed by COVID-19. The virus, which broke in late 2019 in the Wuhan province of China intensified in February, spreading across the world, curtailing movements and international travels.
With the diamond industry, global lockdowns and travel restrictions resulted in muted rough diamond trade, closure of cutting and polishing firms, jewelry outlets and other segments of trade across the value chain.
Mmetla Masire noted that key markets like India are still relatively closed with little demand for rough import for those in operation, as inventories are still swamped up with stock piles. “ODC will remain closed because demand of rough diamonds globally is still very low, so ODC management took a decision to remain closed until demand fully recovers,” he said.
Masire reiterated that major markets for Botswana diamonds such as United States are still on lockdown. He said, “ODC sells its diamonds through auctions; it is still very difficult to hold auctions as of now, so the company will remain closed, with management working from home.”
Okavango Diamond Corporation (ODC) is a wholly state owned diamond marketing and sales company established in 2012 to sell Botswana diamonds outside De Beers’s channels and price books.
ODC markets and sells 15 % of Debswana diamonds after being sorted and valued by Diamond Trading Company (DTCB), while 85 % is sold by De Beers Global Sightholder Sales (DBGSS). Debswana and DTCB are 50-50 ventures of De Beers Group and Botswana Government. DBGSS is wholly owned by De Beers Group.
Botswana Government has a direct 15 % stake in De Beers Group, the remaining 85 % of De Beers Group is owned by Anglo American. Over 60 % of De Beers global production comes from Botswana (Debswana). Meanwhile Debswana, Diamond Trading Company (DTCB), De Beers Global Sightholder Sales (DBGSS) have opened and resumed operations at 60- 70 % workforce.
Mmetla Masire further revealed that DBGSS has started shipping some diamonds to their sightholders in a bid to cultivate market and trading activity amid COVID-19 imposed new normal.
OKAVANGO BLUE YET TO SELL
Okavango Diamond Company has also deferred the sale of Okavango Blue, the magnificent oval shaped blue diamond weighing over 20 carats, unearthed at Debswana Orapa mine at over 40 carats rough weight in 2018.
The sparkling Type IIb ‘Fancy Deep Blue’ unveiled to the world in Gaborone as 20 carats polished last year is yet to sell as demand and prices are still very low to inspire purchase of such a magnificent gem.
The Gemological Institute of America (GIA), has graded the diamond as an Oval Brilliant Cut, VVS2 clarity making it one of the highest polished colour classifications attainable for any blue diamond and at 20.46 carats it sits in the very top bracket of all-time historical blue diamond finds.
Its unique and vibrant blue colour, is created by the molecular inclusion of the rare mineral boron which between 1-3 billion years ago was present in the rocks of ancient oceans during violent diamond forming volcanic activity. Okavango Blue will be showcased over the coming months to promote Botswana as a leading global producer of natural ethical diamonds with an anticipated sale toward the end of the year.
GLOBAL DIAMOND INDUSTRY CRISIS
A couple of months into serious measures to slow the spread of the virus, it has already squashed diamond miners’ dawning hopes of a recovery. Alrosa the world’s largest diamond producer by output, last week reported 95% decline in sales during April, when gauged against the same months last year. This resulted the Russian state-owned deciding to halt production at two of its mines, citing worsening market conditions.
De Beers, the world’s largest producer by value, cut 2020 production guidance by a fifth last month. It had earlier cancelled its April sales event. Canada’s Dominion Diamond Mines, the controlling owner of Ekati mine and a 40% partner to Rio Tinto in the Diavik mine, filed for insolvency protection in April.
Lucara Diamond another Canadian company, posted last week a net loss of $3.2 million, or $0.01 a share, for the first three months of the year. The figure was in sharp contrast with the $7.4 million in net income, or $0.02 in earning per share the miner reported in the same period last year.
South Africa’s Petra Diamonds has recently delayed interest payments to borrow $21 million in new debt, a crucial move to keep the company afloat. Investment banks are increasingly reluctant to extend credit to diamond producers, as inventory is not being sold and defaults are possible, analysts have warned.
“We are concerned about oversupply of rough diamonds following the reopening of economies, as a lot of inventory could potentially be flooded into the system and the market might not be able to absorb all of it, resulting in increased pricing pressure,” said leading European diamond industry think tank, Learnbonds in a statement early this month.
In the coming months prices will go up and inflation will shoot sharply above the target of 3 percent to 6 percent towards the third quarter of 2021, the Bank of Botswana on the other hand will continue to withhold its knife on the Bank Rate. This is according to a forecast made by Kgori Capital in its recent Market Watch Segment.
Statistics from Statistics Botswana show that the recent 1.8 percent increase in the September inflation, from 1 percent in August, was a reflection of the upward adjustment in public transport fares (Transport (from -6.9 to -3.9 percent) in September 2020, which is estimated to have increased inflation by approximately 0.64 percentage points.
Local anti-trust body, Competition and Consumer Authority (CCA), this month received back to back acquisition proposals from South African clothing retailers to wipe out their former rivals, Edcon, from Botswana malls.
Last week BusinessPost was in possession of Merger Notice No 23 of 2020 whereby a South African clothing retailer owner, Retailability Proprietary Limited, through Oclin Proprietary Limited, proposed to acquire parts of the Edgars business conducted by Edcon in Botswana (through Edcon Botswana), as a going concern, consisting of certain assets and identified liabilities.
South African government’s Business Rescue Practitioners earlier this year announced that Retailability will buy Edgars, after the latter filed for a business rescue plan in April after it failed to pay suppliers. This move will see Retailability add Edgars to its portfolio consisting of brands such as; Legit, Beaver Canoe and Style.
Retailability landed on Botswana shores 18 years ago with its flamboyant urban fashion Style which had 17 stores. Style, having almost the same target market as Edgars as it offers men’s and ladies’ contemporary and formal fashion, gave the 91 year old legendary clothing retailer a run for its money, and has won the battle as its parent company has taken over Edgars.
Retailability brands are synonymous with Botswana shopping centres and there are currently five (5) Beaver Canoe stores, 10 Style stores and seven (7) Legit stores across this country. The Beaver Canoe stores sell clothing apparel for men and boys only. The Legit stores have a fashion store format which focuses on the retailing of clothing, footwear, accessories, colour cosmetics and cellular products.
Retailability operates in over 460 stores across South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho, and Eswatini. Many observers suggest that because of the deal with Retailability to swallow Edcon, most Edgars stores in Botswana will change their name and be branded Style. A sad tale for religious consumers of the Edgars trademark who got used to love their favourite brand for years.
According to CCA’s Merger Notice No 23 of 2020, Retailability is controlled by Clifford Raymond Lines (through a company which functions solely as a holding company of his interests in Retailability) and Metier Investment and Advisory Services Proprietary Limited (“Metier”). Metier is a private equity enterprise with investments in a number of industries spanning from healthcare, hospitality, FMCGs and telecommunications.
Retailability directors are mostly South Africans; Clifford Raymond Lines, Mark Richard Friday and Norman Victor Drieselmann. Only Nasreen Essack, who was appointed February this year, is a Motswana. He comes after Brian Thuto Tsima left on the same date. Retailability 100 percent owns Oclin Proprietary Limited, the company it is acquiring Edgars with, by a capacity of 3000 shares.
The target business, Edgars, offer textiles, cosmetics and cellular products. Edcon has a Motswana director, Charles Mzwandile Vikisi, a South African, Shane Van Niekerk and Zimbabwean Jethro Kamutsi.
“The Target Business comprises of two (2) Edgars franchise brands and private label stores across Botswana. These stores target middle to upper income customers and are home to a range of private label brands such as Free2BU, Charter Club and Stone Harbour, and a wide range of market label brands (such as Levi’s and Guess) for clothing, footwear and cosmetics.
In addition, the Target Business operates iconic Edgars Home and Edgars Beauty stores as store-in-store formats rounding out the department store offering in Botswana,” said CCA. Foshini also lines up to take Jet Botswana from Edcon.
The Foschini Group (TFG) released a statement confirming its latest intentions to acquire Edcon assets or Jet for a cash purchase consideration of R480 million. This was after the business rescue practitioners offered TFG to buy Jet by that amount.
CCA is currently mulling on a proposed merger by TFG to take over Jet operations in Botswana. Merger Notice No 21 of 2020 from TFG came a few days before the Retailability proposal. In this merger TFG, acting through Foschini Botswana, want to take over “parts” of the Jet business conducted by Edcon through Jet Supermarkets Botswana.
TFG will be willing to add Jet to its portfolio of 30 retail brands that trade in clothing, footwear, jewellery, sportswear, homeware, cell phones, and technology products from value to upper market segments throughout more than 4085 outlets in 32 countries on five continents. TFG will also get Jet’s distribution centre located in Durban and certain stores in Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Eswatini. Also part of this fat deal is that the company is looking to also acquire JET Club and all existing JET stock of no less than R800 million.
Johannesburg listed TGF owns Foschini Retail Group which owns the local operations called Foschini Botswana, the acquiring enterprise according to CCA merger notice. “TFG is not controlled by any enterprise/s and for completeness, the three largest shareholders of TFG holding shares greater than 5% as at 27th March 2020 are: Government Employees Pension Fund (16.2%) Public Investment Corporation (13.2%); Old Mutual Limited (6.7%); and Investec Asset Management (6.3%). The remaining issued share capital in TFG is widely held,” said the merger notice.
Only Abdool Rahim Khan is a Motswana in the Foschini Botswana directorship, the rest; Ganeswari Shani Naidoo, Anthony Edward Thunström and Gustav Jansen (alternate director) are South Africans.
According to the CCA merger, the Jet Business is Edcon’s discount department store division, selling clothing, footwear, homeware and some cosmetics as well as cellular products and targets lower-to-middle income consumers throughout Botswana. The Jet Business does not directly or indirectly control any enterprises, says the notice. CCA seeks any stakeholder views for or against the proposed merger, which may be sent within 10 days from date of this publication to the following address.
Botswana Communications Regulatory Authority BOCRA signed a memorandum of Agreement (MoA) with the Ministries of Transport and Communications (MTC), Basic Education (MoBE) as well as Local Government and Rural Development (MLGRD).
The MoA seeks to continue the collaboration that dates back to 2016 when the three parties first agreed to work together in a project aimed at computerizing and providing broadband Internet to primary schools in remote and underserved areas of Botswana.
The project benefitted 68 primary schools and 9 secondary schools through the construction of Local Area Network (LAN) in each primary school, provision of 5 Mbps dedicated broadband Internet to each Primary School and provision of Wi-Fi enabled tablets, laptops and related peripherals such as printers and copiers.
Further, the project will see the augmentation of computers in 9 Junior Secondary Schools with 30 laptops per identified school and employment of Information Technology (IT) officers at each primary school.
When speaking at the signing ceremony in Gaborone, Chief Executive of BOCRA and Chairperson of Universal Access and Service Fund (UASF) Board of Trustees Martin Mokgware said the project’s ultimate goal is to facilitate pupils in schools and host villages to be able to play a meaningful role in the digital economy.
Mokgware indicated that this necessitates upgrading of existing Telecommunications infrastructure to high capacity broadband that will support delivery of education, accessibility to the quality Internet and usage of ICTs.
The Fund began its inaugural programme by sponsoring the provision of WiFi hotspots in public areas around the country as its first project. Following the successful implementation of public WiFi hotspots, the Fund identified Kgalagadi, Ghanzi and Mabutsane areas for mobile network upgrades, schools computerization and internet provision.
Conscious that the project would not be possible without buy-in and support from MoBE, MTC and MLGRD, the Fund facilitated the signing of the first MoU between the three parties in 2016 for implementation of the project.
BOCRA Chief Executive said the signing of this agreement is aimed at benefitting the Kweneng District, adding that they have already assessed the area and have determined that they will be covering 62 underserved villages and 119 schools, 91 of which are primary schools.
“This is a project for which the partner Ministries need to re-commit for its success. Lessons from the previous schools’ computerization and internet connectivity project require that we increase our involvement and resources dedicated to the project for it to be successful. It is my belief as the project coordinator, that we will not do things the way we did them during the first project, for if we do, then we will not have learnt anything,” he said at the signing ceremony.
The purpose of learning is so that there can be continuous improvement to minimize the length of time and amount of resources utilized, he said expressing confidence that their partners will step up to the plate and ensure they play their part in the implementation of the project and that it will progress smoothly having already tread along a similar path.
UASF’s role lies mainly in funding and project management. According to Mokgware, once the project is completed, the work to integrate ICTs into the classroom begins in earnest. Therefore, he said, the project will not succeed without full cooperation and oversight of partners.
“MoBE will put in place the necessary content and ensure that the curriculum is available to all. MLGRD will provide, among others, the enabling environment by ensuring readiness of the school’s infrastructure and necessary security.”