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Cut-8: Big plans for those small stones

Balisi Bonyongo

Here in Botswana, Debswana is creating one of the biggest milestones of the country’s development in a project that will go down in the annals of history.

So said President Seretse Khama Ian Khama at the launch in 2010 of the Jwaneng mine expansion project, called Cut-8.

And he was right.

During 2018, Cut-8 will become the main source of ore for Jwaneng mine and extend the life of one of the world’s richest diamond mines to at least 2033, providing access to an estimated 91 million tonnes of ore, containing about 110 million carats of mainly high-quality diamonds [see the 2014 Anglo American plc group annual report for more on project tonnes and carats].

But before a single diamond can be found, about 500 million tonnes of rock lying above the diamond-bearing ore must be removed. We started this in 2010 and, by the end of last year, had removed 50% of it.

We call it Cut-8 because it is the eighth section of the mine that we have, as it were, scooped out. The deeper the cut, of course, the more expensive the project becomes. This cut will almost double the depth of the mine from about 380 metres to 624 metres, making the pit 2.7km long and 1.8km wide.

Jwaneng mine, which opened in 1982, 11 years before I joined as a junior plant metallurgist, is the world’s richest diamond mine by value and is a 50-50 joint venture between the Government of the Republic of Botswana and De Beers. We recovered 11.3 million carats in 2014.

Debswana – a partnership of names: ‘De Beers and Botswana’ – is widely recognised round the world as an enduring partnership between a government and private enterprise that is creating value for both the country and the company.

We are the single biggest contributor to the economy of the country in terms of gross domestic product, total income and foreign earnings. So the country shares in our success, and so do the communities close to our mines, not least Jwaneng.

The performance and progress of Cut-8 mining are critical to the future of Debswana and, more importantly, the future of Botswana. The Jwaneng mine will be catapulted to ‘super-pit’ status, becoming one of the largest open pit mines in the world. 

Thankfully, I have an expert team on the ground, led by Albert Milton, Jwaneng General Manager, that is focused on ensuring that current operations in Cut 6/7 continue to run smoothly as well as overseeing that our contractors in Majwe Mining Joint Venture are on course to deliver the ore from Cut-8 at the time it will be required.

What gives me particular satisfaction about Cut-8 is that, since work began in 2010, our investment has added 1,400 jobs (86 per cent of them held by Botswana citizens) to the total of 3,100 currently employed at Jwaneng – and it has brought about opportunities for many local contractors and businesses.

Our Cut-8 contractors are encouraged to fund social investment projects, and we have already seen several local schools benefit from new classrooms, computers and other equipment.

We have also spent P2.2 million (US$230,000) expanding the Jwaneng Mine Hospital to cater for the increased number of people who have started to stream into Jwaneng as a result of the town’s increased life pulse from Cut-8.

I have moved on since my initial metallurgist role at Jwaneng, but this project is still a key part of my working life. It is a privilege to be leading Debswana at a time when the company is playing such a valuable role in boosting my country’s economy and strengthening local communities.

Jwaneng, by the way, is a Setswana word meaning ‘the place where a small stone is found’. However, the significance of those small stones to De Beers and the people of Botswana is anything but small.

Balisi Bonyongo
Managing Director, Debswana Diamond Company

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