Botswana is a vast country filled with incredible wildlife and natural resources. It also happens to be home to the richest diamond mine in the world by value. Situated in the south of Botswana, approximately 160km south-west of the capital city Gaborone, is the mining town of Jwaneng. The name Jwaneng is Setswanan and means ‘a place of small stones’, which is precisely what this mining town has produced since having begun operations in 1982.
As little as 35 years ago there was nothing in Jwaneng but bush, cattle, and abundant game. There was no infrastructure or electricity and just a few sand tracks. Today, Jwaneng Mine is the richest piece of real estate in the world, valued at five times an equivalent piece of land in Tokyo, Japan, and is home to an entire mining community.
In 1972, it was a De Beers prospector who first discovered the diamond-bearing pipe in the Naledi River Valley, on the edge of the Kgalagadi Desert. After years of negotiation, in 1978, the diamond giants joined forces with the Botswana Government in an agreement to develop a mine. It was only in 1982 that the open-pit mine exposed, for the first time, the 245 million-year-old volcanic pipe covering 54 hectares near the surface, and began releasing its precious cargo of diamonds at a rate of approximately 12 million carats per year.
The mine was officially opened on 14 August 1982, by Botswana’s then President Sir Ketumile Masire, who described Jwaneng Mine as, ‘not just a new mine, but a gem in the world of gems’. He added that the mine was a ‘supreme achievement which would place Botswana firmly in the front ranks of the world’s diamond producers’. Former Chairman of Debswana, Harry Oppenheimer, described Jwaneng as ‘probably the most important kimberlite discovered anywhere in the world since the original discoveries at Kimberley more than a century ago’. The visions held by those two leaders were profound, and Jwaneng Mine is now rated as the most profitable diamond mine by value in the world.
The Town of Jwaneng
The owners, Debswana – a partnership between the De Beers Company and the Government of Botswana – now had to establish all the infrastructure necessary to support a mining project of this size and, as a result, an entire township was built in less than four years.
The town was constructed about 11 kilometers from the Jwaneng Mine and needed to be built so that it could accommodate diverse income groups and professions within the same area. The new town of Jwaneng included accommodation for employees, schools, a hospital, a community centre, shopping and sports facilities. Electricity was provided by an online, diesel-driven power station which was later decommissioned when Jwaneng was connected to the national grid. An airstrip was also constructed and the 125km road from Lobatse to Jwaneng was built, taking 46 months to complete at a cost of BWP 14million.
Jwaneng was given ‘town’ status in 1984 and today, with a growing population of 18 000, the town of Jwaneng has the usual infrastructure of any other modern town.
The Jwaneng diamond mine sits atop the convergence of three kimberlite pipes: diamond- rich geological formations. These pipes cover 128.5 acres at ground level, and meet just below the earth’s surface. Hence, the diamonds are mined from an open pit, and not from an underground tunnel. Currently, Jwaneng is mining to a depth of 350 metres and is expected to reach 624 metres by 2017.
In 2008 Jwaneng produced 13.674 million carats from 15.766 tons treated, and in 2009 Jwaneng produced 9.04 million carats from 6.06 million tons treated. Production normally varies according to the mining plans of approximately 12.5 to 15 million carats per year. With the global economic recession, 2009 was still considered to be an exceptional year in that production was reduced in line with demand for diamonds from the DTC (Diamond Trading Company) sight holders. In 2010, Jwaneng produced 11.5 million saleable carats. This excellent rate of recovery, combined with the very high quality of the diamonds, continues to make Jwaneng Mine the richest diamond mine in the world, by value.
Cut 8 – The extension of Jwaneng Diamond Mine
In November 2009 the shareholders of Debswana gave the green light to proceed with a major extension project at Jwaneng. The project, also known as Cut 8, commenced in 2010 and represents the largest ever investment in Botswana. The project is expected to prolong the life of the mine out to 2025 and will create more than 1 000 jobs and yield 100 million carats.
This investment ensures continuity of supply from the world’s richest diamond mine, and could be worth in excess of $15 billion over the life of the mine. The project is expected to further strengthen Botswana’s local economy and transform Jwaneng Mine into one of the world’s few super-pit mines.
Jwaneng Mine’s revenue to Debswana and Botswana has become a beacon of hope in mineral exploitation. The Cut 8 project investment of BWP 24 billion secures the future of the diamond industry and the sales agreement negotiated between Debswana and De Beers to relocate the Diamond Trading Company from London to Gaborone is a key milestone.
Jwaneng economic influence
Needless to say, mining is the largest contributor to the Botswana’s GDP. In Botswana, diamond revenue contributes 50% of public revenue, 33% of GDP and 70% of foreign exchange earnings. Debswana is the largest non-government employer and earner of foreign exchange in Botswana and it is the Jwaneng Mine that contributes 60 – 70% of Debswana’s total earnings.
The diamond industry is the second-largest employer in Botswana and represents 25% of the country’s workforce. The diamond resources also drive economic growth through the development and support of local businesses. This is achieved through preferential procurement, enterprise development and beneficiation initiatives that offer Botswana the opportunity to leverage its position in the diamond pipeline to lay the foundations for a sustainable, post-mine diamond economy.
The returns from Jwaneng’s diamond mine have contributed to the development of physical and social infrastructure such as roads, water supplies, electricity, telecommunications, health facilities, schools and human capital. Funds generated from Jwaneng’s diamond mine have also been used to support Government’s HIV/AIDS programmes, including the provision of free antiretroviral therapy to citizens.
When visiting Jwaneng, many use the town as a pit-stop during their travels through Botswana. However, numerous visitors also visit the town to tour the world-renowned diamond mine. The nearby Jwana Game Park, situated around the Jwaneng Mine, which was established and supported by the mine, is also open to visitors. Most visitors to Jwaneng include education groups from schools, wildlife clubs, as well as students from the University of Botswana.
Officially established as a game park in 1994, the Jwana Game Park is a conservation effort that aims to conserve existing free-roaming game in the area. In 1986, several waterholes were built, resulting in an influx of animals which also led to an increase in poaching in the area. Before the year 1987 ended, a security fence was raised to protect the wildlife as well as enhance mine security. From then on, the park has increased in size from 5 926 to 19 085 hectares, and animals have been imported to reintroduce the species that once roamed and occupied the area. It now accommodates about 1 700 indigenous animals including; red hartebeest, impala, springbok, steenbok, duiker, wildebeest, gemsbok (oryx), kudu, eland, giraffe, zebra, warthog, baboon, cheetah, ostrich, leopard, caracal and numerous other smaller animal species.
A Cheetah Conservation Botswana field unit operates in the park, and Lappet-faced Vultures, which are globally threatened, are also found. In November 2007, two white rhinos were introduced from the Khama Sanctuary in support of the National Strategy for the Conservation of Endangered Rhino Population.
The development of the Jwana Game Park has served to disprove the traditional image of mining companies being a threat to conservation.
When to visit?
Depending on the region, Botswana’s climate varies from semi-arid to sub-tropical. Generally, there’s little rainy weather throughout the year in Botswana and the average summer and winter daytime temperatures in the country are not very diverse.
The country’s summer climate runs from October through to March and may become extremely hot at times with temperatures reaching highs of 41°C / 105°F. It is because of this that many visitors prefer to visit during the winter months when the weather is much cooler. Those on safari, however, may be better off visiting during the rainy summer months, as wildlife can easily be spotted around newly flooded waterholes, making it the best time to visit national parks or game reserves. Peak season in Botswana is from June to September, which is predominantly winter, where temperatures are much cooler and drier with clear, sunny weather. From May to September temperatures during the day can reach around 25°C / 77°F, though at night it could get rather chilly and at times even icy. Packing some suitable and warmer clothing when visiting Botswana during this season is highly recommended.
In terms of prices, the best months to visit Botswana are in April, May, October and November. During these times, many of the lodges are priced quite competitively and visitors can enjoy the same experiences at a reduced cost.
The town of Jwaneng is an extraordinary and very important part of the country of Botswana. It is a place full of history and treasure, beginning as a humble cattle post to becoming the world’s richest diamond mine by value. Jwaneng is a diamond oasis secluded in an overwhelming and expansive Kalahari Desert, and a world landmark in the diamond industry. Jwaneng is truly unique in this world and is the perfect example of just how rich in wildlife and resources Africa can be.