REPORTER: Ginny Stein

 

 

For over 40 years in an arid, landlocked country in the heart of Southern Africa, a quiet economic and social miracle has been taking place. Despite the ethnic and economic turmoil that surrounds it, Botswana has risen to become the star of Africa. Around the world, for a thousand years, that most valued gemstone - the diamond - has adorned the bodies of the rich and famous. These sparkling stones have transformed Botswana from one of the poorest countries in the world to, so far, one of the most prosperous and stable countries in Africa.

 

KGOMOTSO MPHETLHE: These ones are fancy, they get polished, sometimes they lose their greenness but the white ones will always remain white ones.

 

Kgomotso Mphetlhe says her life has also been transformed.

 

KGOMOTSO MPHETLHE: I am what I am because of the diamonds, whoever is out there, is out there because of the diamonds, the schools, the infrastructure, the whole development that you see, it's because of the diamonds.

 

When, in 1966, Botswana gained independence from Britain, the nation's best-kept secret was made public. The country had diamonds - and lots of them. At independence, the capital, Gaborone, was a remote cattle station on the edge of the Kalahari Desert. Now thanks to the revenue from the mines, it is a thriving modern city. It's how Botswana manages its wealth that singles out this tiny African nation from some of its other resource-rich near neighbours.

 

NTETLENG MASISI, BUSINESS AND TRADE CONSULTANT: Good governance. A government that is not looking at enriching itself, a government that is not looking at using diamonds to fight within and outside. A government that used diamonds to bring about health facilities, education and a markedly improved quality of life.

 

Unlike other African countries, where the discovery of diamonds has turned into a curse - with the so-called blood or conflict diamonds fuelling exploitation, subversion and division in Botswana - the nation's geological wealth - worth about US$3 billion a year - has been shared.

 

MATOME MALEMA, ORAPA MINE GENERAL MANAGER: In Botswana, the legislation is such that all mineral rights are vested in the Republic of Botswana. They don't belong to a tribe or to a community - they belong to the country.

 

But 50% of the diamonds go to the giant of the diamond business, DeBeers. The Republic of Botswana and DeBeers formed a company, Debswana, to mine and market the diamonds to the world.

 

NTETLENG MASISI:  Well, if you go back to the level of our sophistication at the time when we went into partnership with them you will realise they did a lot for us. Because, at the time, we didn't really know where to begin, what to do, and we really needed somebody like that to hold our hand and walk us through.

 

Ntetleng Masisi says it was a business partnership borne out of necessity.

 

NTETLENG MASISI: The earnings, the earnings from our exports of diamonds have really done a lot for us. Agriculture used to be our mainstay and it used to bring us the revenue for government, but once the diamonds came in there was a marked difference - a very big difference.

 

Kgomotso Mphetlhe started working at the Diamond Trading Company of Botswana straight from high school. She now sorts and grades the precious stones.

 

KGOMOTSO MPHETLHE: Young as I was, I think I had the passion for learning more about diamonds, as I think you know most Botswanans are not exposed to diamonds. They hear about them but they haven't seen them, most of them. So for me it was an opportunity to actually come and touch them and work with them and feel what they are like.

 

As a child Mphetlhe grew up in a poor rural community. But her country was transforming and so were her ambitions.

 

KGOMOTSO MPHETLHE: It has always been my dream that I own my own home and I had even set a timeframe for it. I set that before I reach the age of 35 I should have my own home and that I am paying the mortgage and comfortably set.

 

She reached that goal ahead of schedule, and now at 34, she's one of Botswana's growing middle class. And this is source of Mphetlhe's and Botswana's wealth - Orapa, 'the resting place of lions', on the northern edge of the Kalahari Desert.

 

 

JOSHUA DODO, ORAPA MINE: This is the mine that has built this country. All of the resources, the money that has come out it has been invested into building this country.

 

Since mining began here in 1971 more than 336 million tonnes of soil has been pulled out of this pit along with 272 million carats of diamonds. Although the global economic crisis saw jobs cuts last year and the mine suspended operations for a number of weeks as demand worldwide slowed down, they say there are enough diamonds here to keep miners busy for decades to come.

 

JOSHUA DODO: It is going to get bigger. Since 1971 we have mined two cuts, we are on cut number two. And we will be going for a third cut which will start possibly in the next five or six years from now.

 

Mine manager Matome Malema says unlike most companies that exploited Africa's resources, and like many who continue to this day, DeBeers did not simply plunder.

 

MATOME MALEMA:  One would probably reflect back and say that if you look back at some the major mining companies in the world, their relationship with governments across the world has not been the best that they could be, but in the case of Debswana's you've got this 40 41-year relationship that has moved from strength to strength you know over the years.

 

This clinic has gone from very humble beginnings to a fully fledged hospital with money from the mine. But it's not just for the mine workers - the entire community has access to the facilities. Dr Mwamba Nsebula has worked here for almost a decade.

 

DR MWAMBA NSEBULA: It was a house, a 1-room house, like a first aid station. Together with the exploration as the mine was set up, it became two rooms and then with that, we added on more buildings and now we are now at the state where we have a high-care unit, a resuscitation room, we have a theatre and we have several wards to accommodate inpatients.

 

Dr Nsebula says the company cares for two reasons.

 

DR MWAMBA NSEBULA: One is a selfish reason - that we want our workforce to remain productive for as long as possible, but also because the company cares, and would like to demonstrate that caring attitude by partnering with the government and providing a service to the community.

 

Botswana made an early decision to grow its own workforce with diamond revenues funding education abroad. Mine general manager Matome Malema owes both his education and his career to diamonds and Debswana.

 

MATOME MALEMA: And when I finished high school I actually got a scholarship from Debswana, so Debswana basically trained me to become the metallurgical engineer that I am at the moment, and I came back to Debswana and worked my way up the ranks. So it is a typical story of a rural boy moving from a rural boy to a general manager of one of the largest mines in the world.

 

REPORTER: Pretty good going?

 

MATOME MALEMA: Very much so.

 

But for a country that prides itself on being the world's largest diamond producer, there is one hurdle it is yet to overcome. And that's being able to sell the diamonds it produces at home for jewellery to be made locally. DeBeers has long controlled the sale of diamonds on a global scale - now it's being pushed to give more back to Botswana.

 

REPORTER: So it's time to value add?

 

 

NTETLENG MASISI: Yes, it's time to value add, but then you don't do it in a manner that will destroy partnerships like those. Because you still do need them, because diamonds are a very delicate product to market and so you don't scorn your partners when you think you are there.

 

Botswana's wealth has a cost - now totally reliant on money from diamonds - the country's welfare, and future, is now in the hands of the diamond traders and at the whims of the international market. But for Kgomotso Mpetlhe, spending time in one of the growing number of shopping malls that cater for Botswana's new middle class, the possibilities appear endless.

 

KGOMOTSO MPETLHE: I think there are so many opportunities that are still coming, so I want to put myself in a level that I will be able to achieve what I am dreaming of achieving. So, like, in South Africa, women who are in the mining industry, there are women running the show, so I think I want to be one of those. That's my dream.

 

 

 

Reporter/Camera

GINNY STEIN

 

Fixer

ZLATCO PUSKAS

 

Editor

ROWAN TUCKER-EVANS

 

Producer

ASHLEY SMITH

 

Translations/Subtitling

OLGA van BAREN

 

Original Music composed by

VICKI HANSEN 

 

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