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Jwaneng, the world’s richest diamond resource by value. (Photo courtesy of De Beers)

WORLD’S RICHEST OPEN-PIT DIAMOND MINE TO BECOME THE WORLD’S LARGEST UNDERGROUND MINE

 

Debswana Diamond, the Botswana based diamond mining company  owned jointly by De Beers and the government of Botswana, has announced a  plan to invest \$6 billion in building the world’s largest underground diamond mine at Jwaneng, located in the south of the country. The site is already home to the world’s richest diamond mine by value, an open-pit operation.

The new underground mine, for which an early access decline will be in place already by 2023, will eventually entail more than 360 kilometers tunnel development.

According to Thabo Balopi, Debswana’s head of transformation and innovation, the underground mine will reach full production by 2034, and will have a capacity as high as 9 million carats per year. It is estimated that it will extend Jwaneng’s working lifespan by 20 years.

“We are still doing the studies toward transforming to an underground producer, which is a very different environment, with different capabilities and mindset,” Balopi said during press conference in the Botswana capital of Gaborone.

LYNCHPIN OF THE DE BEERS OPERATION

Jwaneng has long been a lynchpin of De Beers’ worldwide operation. In 2020 it produced 7.5 million carats of the group’s 25.1 million carats of rough diamond output, and during the first quarter of this year reported 3.2 million carats mined, which was equal to fully 41 percent of De Beers’ total production during the three-month period.

Debswana plans to increase output in 2021 by 38 percent to pre-pandemic levels, with the global diamond market forecast to make a strong recovery.

Debswana was impacted badly by the COVID-19 pandemic with its arnings almost halved as sales and production struggled in the face of by and global shutdowns.

The open-pit mining operation at Jwaneng. (Photo courtesy of Debswana)

The development of the new underground mine is part of a new business strategy adopted last year by Debswana, which it believes will generate more than $900 million in additional revenue over the next four years. The five-year plan includes restructuring of mines and improving efficiencies.

As part of the plan, Debswana closed one of its smaller low-grade mines, and 47-year-old processing plant was decommissioned.

Springbok in the Jawa Game park, adjacent to the diamond mine. (Photo courtesy of Debswana)

A PLACE OF SMALL STONES

Jwaneng diamond resource was discovered in 1972 in the Naledi River Valley in the south of Botswana, about 120 kilometers west of Gaborone. “Jwaneng” means a a place of small stones in the local Tswana language.

Located on three kimberlite pipes that converge near the surface, covering 520,000 square meters at ground level, the open-pit mine became fully operational in August 1982.

With a substantially higher dollar per carat obtained for its output, it would on any given year come to contribute as much as 70 percent of Debswana’s total revenue. Production at the open pit facility varies according to mining plans from approximately 12.5 million carats to 15 million carats per year.

The mine currently employs more than 2,100 people, and also owns and operates a local hospital and airport. Within its lease area lies the Jwana Game Park, which is home to about 1,700 large wildlife, including cheetah and the rare white rhinos.​