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Diamonds are forever – or are they?

Diamonds are forever - or are they?
Botswana Diamond

Ever spent a day without thinking about a diamond?

Whether you are passing by that unavoidable jewellery store on your way to get bread at the supermarket, bumping into a stranger wearing a sparkly engagement or wedding ring, paging through a magazine, watching a movie or even browsing through your friend’s pictures on social media, glimpsing the rare gem has become exceedingly common – a daily occurrence even!

This is especially true if you’re a resident of beautiful Botswana, where the diamond industry has long been a bedrock of the country’s economy.

The durability of the diamond has been drilled into our minds through the 1947 De Beers slogan ‘Diamonds are Forever’, recognised today by over 90 per cent of Americans, every young woman who dreams of getting a surprise engagement ring in a glass of champagne during a romantic dinner for two, and every other Motswana.

The marketing campaign was geared at bonding the resilience of the diamond with emotion, wealth and prestige – the most dominant being the idea of ‘everlasting love’.

It caught on and to date, the diamond holds its ground as the single most precious gem that one can give a loved one.

Though not as rare as it was in the past, owing to its unique chemical structure the diamond is still the hardest of all gemstones – perhaps another reason why they are ‘forever’.

According to The diamondauthority.com, “diamonds have incredibly strong bonds because they are made up of carbon. Being the smallest of the atoms that can be bonded, carbon fits in more tightly together with other atoms, making a hard and compressed substance. Once these atoms have been compressed at high enough temperatures to make a diamond, they are literally stuck there forever. Therefore, the phrase ‘Diamonds are Forever’ is more than just a catchy marketing slogan.”

With that in mind, have you ever wondered, ‘What if the diamonds under the ground aren’t forever?’

What if they finish and there is nothing to mine at all? Scary thought isn’t it!

Well, don’t panic just yet – the future of mining diamonds in Botswana is still bright.

Debswana is the world’s leading producer of diamonds by value between its four mines, being the Letlhakane, Orapa, Jwaneng and Damtshaa Mines, which could at one-point produce over 30 million carats per annum – that’s 600, 000 carats a week when operating at full capacity!

Do not fear the depletion of diamonds under the ground. There are plenty of the sparkly stones down there with some ores still to be mined

The pit at Orapa Mine is currently mining at Cut-2 while Cut-3 is still at project stage.

The cuts are a split-shell mining procedure where debris (rock and soil) is removed to reach the ore body deeper in the earth.

Jwaneng mine recently announced, in its Cut-8 plan, that it has cleared 85 per cent of the 500 million tonnes (Mt) of waste required to expose the ore body.

It has been confirmed that the first Cut-8 ore scheduled to reach the processing plant during the first half of 2017 has started being processed.

It appears, then, that the decline in consumer spending on diamonds is an issue to be more concerned about.

Consumer trends affected by economic recessions past, present and impending, is one of the reasons the diamond market is unpredictable.

However, it seems that even this has been exaggerated, as Debswana recently revealed they recorded impressive consumer spending last year.

All four Debswana mines use the Open-pit mining technique, where digging deeper to reach the ore body hundreds of metres below ground is complex and delicate work requiring detailed planning and impeccable engineering knowhow.

Because the quality of diamonds retrieved from much deeper underground can not be guaranteed, mining becomes a risky business as sometimes the quality of the ore can be so low that continuing with the mining operation is no longer viable.

In such cases the mine inevitably shuts down, or other options like underground mining are considered.

Prompting the question, ‘What happens to the hundreds of metres deep pit left behind?’

It would be near impossible to refill the pits and rehabilitate the environment. In the case of Debswana, and most mines operating legally, there is a Mine Closure Plan (MCP).

The plan, which is reviewed at least every 5 years, looks into current and forecast activities and impacts with the idea of determining programs and projects that can be put in place to ensure the communities around the mine benefit long after the mine is non-operational.

The game reserves and parks around Debswana mines are not by accident but are a strategic, long-term plan to promote tourism in the mining areas now and long after a mine closure.

Even the pits themselves can bring value long after a mine closes.

They can be used as field training facilities by Mining Training Institutions.

Furthermore, they can potentially attract tourists as they are often classified as national monuments.

So in essence ‘A Diamond is Forever’ in that it is indestructible by virtue of its chemical composition, it will never really get depleted from the ground and the developments put up to improve the lives of Batswana will always be there, more especially the community projects that will live on long after a mine closes.