Diamond smuggling poses challenge to Debswana


Gaborone –Diamonds from mining fields in Botswana’s neighbouring countries are finding their way into Debswana mining operations in Botswana, says Eunice Mpoloka, Senior Project Manager at Debswana.

Mpoloka says some of the diamonds were from the Marange diamond fields in Zimbabwe and some from Namibia.

In a bid to deter and detect diamond theft, Debswana intends to install Scannex X-ray machines in its four mines, Mpoloka has revealed.

Speaking during a two-day tour of Venetia mines in South Africa, Mpoloka explained that Scannex would replace physical searches of employees in blue and red areas, which were high risk areas at the mines.

“Debswana intends to emulate Venetia Mine that had started using Scannex. Employees at Venetia Mine were not expected to strip physically like at Debswana mines, but they went through the Scannex machine that produced high clarity digital images,” she said.

According to Mpoloka, Scannex would not only deter and detect diamond theft, but would also restore dignity of employees as they would no longer strip physically.

Scannex, she said, was a safe, tried and tested technology which had been used for more than 20 years in South African and Namibian mines.

The total cost of the whole project, which includes purchasing four Scannex machines at Orapa, Letlhakane, Damtshaa and Jwaneng mines was P40 million.

She cited Namibia’s diamond producer, Namdeb, which has used low dosage X-rays for over 40 years with no reported case of adverse health effects.

“Scannex speeds up the search process, reduces irritations associated with queuing delays and protects employees against potential blackmail as well as coercion as it removes the possibility of collusion.

“Debswana scored the lowest score of 44 percent during the independent reviews that were carried out to determine the state of security affairs across all Debswana mines, and significant security weaknesses and vulnerabilities were identified, hence the introduction of Scannex,” she said.

She said Botswana had adopted international standards informed by the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

“Dose limits prescribed by the Botswana Radiation Protection Act of 2006, states that radiation workers dose limit stood at 20 mSv per person per year and members of the public is 1msV per person per year,” said Mpoloka. 

Employee exposure records, Mpoloka said, shall be kept until an employee was 75 years and not less than 30 years after termination of employment. On pregnant women, Mpoloka said, they would not be scanned, and an alternative job would be offered during pregnancy.

Mpoloka added that they had received a conditional approval from Radiation Protection Board in June 2012 and that an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report was submitted in August 2013. The head of security management and systems at De Beers Group, Johan Boylan, said Scannex had been designed to depict the characteristic of a diamond and could detect foreign objects on or within the body.

Boylan stated that the personal dignity of the person scanned would not be invaded since identity would not be revealed.

He noted that since the introduction of Scannex they had managed to detect various cases of diamond theft, with some of them hidden in the anus, clothing and buttocks, among others.

Boylan said the use of Scannex was regulated, controlled and monitored, adding that a licence was required to use a body scanner.

Employees at Venetia Mine, he said, were restricted from entering the red or blue area carrying anything on the pockets including coins to enable easy detection.

However, the diamond giant is facing a strong opposition from unions over the introduction of Scannex at its mines.

BMWU Secretary General, Jack Tlhagale, says they are against the use of the Scannex machines and claims that they emit radiation that would pose a health hazard to its members.

August 2014
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