By Mpho Tebele
GABORONE – Four months after Gem Diamonds, announced that it has suspended its operations at Ghaghoo mine in western Botswana, another diamond mine has been shut down.
In February this year, Gem Diamonds, has announced that it suspended operations at Ghaghoo with immediate effect citing low prices for the diamonds coming from the mine.
Australia’s Kimberley Diamond Ltd (KDL) has also announced that it has shut down its struggling diamond producer, Lerala Mine in central Botswana citing weak sales in the process leaving more than 130 workers jobless.
The Ministry of Minerals, Water and Energy has dispatched mining commissioner to Lerala village, to enquire about the closure of Lerala Diamond Mine, according to Minister Sadique Kebonang.
Kebonang said he only learnt about the closure of the mine on Monday, June 5, after it was reportedly shut down on June 2, 2017. He said the government was never informed about the decision to close the mine.
This is the third time in its history that Lerala Mine has closed shop, having shut down in February 2009 and July 2012.
Unionists told Mmegi newspaper that the Australian owners, Kimberly Diamonds, had simply ordered the mine shut without paying workers their May salaries, citing weak sales.
Botswana Mine Workers Union (BMWU) national organising coordinator, Abel Buka told Mmegi that workers first sensed trouble last week, before Ascension Day, when their salaries went unpaid for May.
He said when the general manager enquired from Australia on the matter, he was informed Kimberly Diamonds was finalising a deal with a Chinese financier to get out of the troubles.
In February this year, Gem Diamonds, has announced that it has suspended its operations at Ghaghoo mine in western Botswana with immediate effect because of low prices for the diamonds coming from the operation.
“On May 29, the GM again engaged the headquarters and told them that it was now four days after pay day and workers were anxious. That’s when the response came saying ‘there’s no money, so just close the mine and you and the workers must leave the premises,” Buka is further quoted as saying.
He further added said that after the union’s intervention on May 30, did the Australian firm write a formal brief to workers informing them that it was suspending operations, but without stating the period of the suspension or their fates.
Originally opened in 2008 by Australian firm DiamonEx, Lerala has battled cycles in the diamond market, being sold to UK junior, Mantle before passing to another Australian firm, Kimberly Diamonds in 2013.
The mineral resource of the diamond mine as at December 31, 2015 was estimated at 20.1 million tonnes at 24.2 carats per hundred tonnes pointing to 4.9 million carats.
Kimberly Diamonds had targeted an annual output of 360,000 carats from Lerala over seven years.