In our most recent series of articles, I have been looking at some of the new sources of rough diamonds in the global market. These new sources will be important in helping the industry to offset the supply from certain older mines that can expect production to diminish, or in some cases, cease outright. The next source I want to look at will be a significant contributor to global rough supply.
Although De Beers’ Jwaneng mine in Botswana is not a new mine, the massive Jwaneng Cut-8 project will expand it significantly, and keep the mine operating for many more years. Jwaneng will be a major source of diamonds for both the global market and for Botswana.
Debswana (a 50:50 joint venture between the government of Botswana and De Beers Group) owns and operates Jwaneng, one of the world’s most important sources of rough diamonds since its discovery in 1972. It was officially opened in 1982, by then-President of Botswana, Sir Ketumile Masire. It is located approximately 160 km Southwest of Gaborone, Botswana’s capital city, in the Naledi River valley, known locally as ‘The Valley of the Stars.’
In the local Setswana language, Jwaneng means ‘place where a small stone is found’. It is the largest producing mine in the world by value. In 2015, it produced more than 11 million carats, with a total value of over $2.3 billion. This easily dwarfs its neighbor, the Orapa diamond mine, the world’s second most prolific mine. According to De Beers, Jwaneng contributes between 60 to 70% of its revenue each year.
Cut-8 is a reference to the eighth, and largest, expansion of the mine. The project removed overburden and perimeter country rock, making the surrounding pit walls shallower to support open-pit mining. Given the scale of the mine, it was more economical to continue the mine as an open-pit then to revert to underground mining. An estimated 713 million tonnes of rock had to be removed in order to access the three kimberlite pipes beneath. The effort will be worthwhile. With an estimated 91 million tonnes of ore, and 110 million carats of diamonds, the new expansion will keep Jwaneng operating at full capacity until around 2025.
Part of the expansion required the building of a second diamond processing plant on site. This is in addition to Jwaneng’s famous Aquarium plant. The processing plant was given this name after the two unique technologies employed inside it: FISH, or Fully Integrated Sort House, and CARP, Completely Automated Recovery Plant. The iconic blue building is the first thing a visitor sees when entering the mine site.
The Jwaneng expansion added 1,400 jobs to the 1,700 already employed at Jwaneng. Almost all of them are local Batswana. The mine and its expansion also indirectly created local service jobs, which further benefited the community. Botswana as a nation relies heavily on diamond revenue for its economy, and this project will secure the country’s place at the top of diamond producing nations for years to come.
The project has also funded improvements to the local hospital to support the influx of people to the area, and the building of additional schools. Debswana is currently the largest non-governmental employer in the country.
The expansion project began in 2010, but will not produce any diamonds until 2018. In the meantime, mining continues in the previous Cut-5 and Cut-6 regions of the mine. From early 2018 onward, Cut-8 will supply all the production from Jwaneng. It will bring the depth of the mine as low as 850 meters, and produce an open pit that will be 2.7 km long and 1.8 km wide. This will put it in the category of a global ‘super-pit’, amongst the largest in the world for any mining operation.
Debswana is currently reviewing options for an additional Cut-9 project, as well as a Cut-10 underground mine that would extend the mine’s depth below 1,000 meters. The mine will also undertake a significant project to re-process a decade’s worth of previously processed ore, known as tailings, to extract additional diamonds that were missed in the past.