By Mpho Tebele
GABORONE- BOTSWANA has defended the strategy it has put together in collaboration with mining giant, De Beers, for diamond beneficiation.
Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi told a diamond conference held in Gaborone recently that the strategy has enabled growth in a number of cutting and polishing factories and in secondary trading of rough diamonds.
“The positive impact has been a substantial increase in employment year-on-year,” said Masisi.
There are 20 diamond cutting and polishing firms in the country that have created up to 3,700 new jobs since 2014. But Masisi cautioned that the sector is under threat from market fundamentals, a situation which calls for fresh creativity to ensure survival.
In response, Masisi said, the government had devised new strategies to help diamond cutting and polishing firms bridge the cash and skills gaps.
Some of the recent initiatives aimed at improving access to credit and creating a pool of skills include the availing of a US$125 million credit facility by Barclays Bank of Botswana with Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) providing guarantees, in partnership with Lazare Kaplan International (LKI), as well as the licensing of Diamond Academy of Botswana to provide training to the diamond industry, he said.
Masisi reiterated that external influences, especially the development of ‘disruptive technologies’ such as those used in the production of synthetic diamonds, presented new threats to global consumer demand for precious minerals.
He, therefore, called on diamond manufacturers and retailers to search for new strategies to survive the prevailing and emerging challenges.
Masisi challenged the industry to deal with the changing landscape of consumer demand saying of late, the market had witnessed rising prices of rough diamonds against declining prices of polished products.
The conference brought together representatives of the diamond sector from around the world to debate current industry challenges and issues and explore future strategies for sustainable business.
“The Conference presented an opportunity for, not only the diamond sector, but also the country’s development agenda for the future. The theme, ‘Beyond Tomorrow’, challenges us, a country that has been mining diamonds for over four decades, to be more vigilant, innovative, and visionary,” said Masisi.
Masisi said Botswana is unique not only for its high quality diamonds, but also for its extremely successful public-private partnership with De Beers, which has seen significant social investment from diamonds play a key role in transformation and upliftment.
Key issues discussed included the changing landscape of consumer demand.
Masisi said current challenges include the fact that opportunities for marketing diamonds have shifted significantly in the past few years.
“With the advent of augmented retail experiences, reaching today’s consumer requires agile, audience appropriate, marketing strategies,” he said.
Neo Moroka, the Resident Director for De Beers in Botswana, said the purpose of the conference was to afford delegates an opportunity to discuss important issues around the industry to ensure the integrity of diamonds are protected and thereby create a lasting legacy.
“Our partnership with Botswana stretches back nearly 50 years and, for De Beers, Botswana is the heart of our business and our most important partner. We therefore view this conference as having a symbiotic relationship to the role Botswana can play as a benchmark for everyone both in the developed and new world countries” said Moroka.
Nonofo Molefhi, the Acting Minister of Mineral Resources, Green Technology and Energy and Security Minister, said the conference tackled critical topics that addressed the diamond sector challenges and opportunities, present and future.
“Through the diamond hub, the government is committed to helping the diamond industry become viable despite the challenges facing manufacturers in Botswana. Some of the initiatives geared toward improving the business environment is the minerals policy review and regular engagement with stakeholders” said Molefhi.
Bruce Cleaver, CEO of De Beers Group, said: “We currently face a number of challenges. Issues such as the future of financing, industry efficiency and changing consumer trends are all set to test us in the years ahead but as challenging as each of these may be, they also represent opportunities for us to improve the way we work and to become even stronger in the future.”
Cleaver added that “diamonds are an inspirational purchase and people aspire to buy diamonds. But you can’t take anything for granted in the diamond world. We have to continue marketing diamonds, continue driving demand. So I think as long as we are all innovative, as long as we are all focused, there is a great future in the diamond industry”.
Minister of Youth Empowerment, Sport and Culture Development, Thapelo Olopeng, said lack of youth involvement in the mining sector is robbing the nation of future strategies on youth innovation to grow the diamond industry and, therefore, asked De Beers to intervene.
He called on De Beers Group of Companies to consider working with youth business in the mining sector.
He said diamond revenues are the main drivers of the high economic growth that Botswana is experiencing today and urged De Beers leadership to encourage youth participation.
Olopeng further said diamonds are not stained because of the hard work, discipline, diligence and professionalism that Botswana and DeBeers family has exercised for the past years.
“Government cannot fully empower and develop the youth and therefore there is need for collective working relations from the business community to mentor them into successful entrepreneurs,” Olopeng said.