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Heroes who discovered Botswana’s diamonds

SHARE   |   Wednesday, 19 November 2014   |   By Othusitse Tlhobogang

To most Batswana, our knowledge about the discovery of diamonds goes as far as knowing that they were found immediately after independence and changed the economic status of the country which was one of the poorest in the world.

Last week Debswana brought together the men who through their relentless efforts discovered the kimberlite that led to the economic boom of the country.


Most of them are in their late seventies. They shared their stories during a seminar held at Gaborone Sun.

During the seminar, Jim Gibson who discovered the Orapa Kimberlite field and Norman Lock (the Jwaneng Kimberlite) field shared their experience. The most humbling thing during their presentations was that they kept on crediting their Batswana former colleagues who were in attendance and emphasised that it was through team work that realised their goals.


During the the video presentation that was shot during the geological survey and construction of Orapa Mine, the former employees especially Batswana were taken aback.

“Monna Eleven golo fa re kile ra bereka hei,” said a greyed haired old man to his former colleague sitting next to him.


 Debswana Managing Director, Balisi Bonyongo who was clearly overcome by emotions, paid tribute to the original prospectors especially Batswana whom he said played a pivotal role in changing the fortunes of Botswana.

He narrated the struggle they used to face whilst at primary school in the early years of Botswana’s independence due to poverty and how diamonds changed their dreams,

“During my primary school days, we used to use sticks and stones to add and subtract in mathematics classes. One day a classroom block was built at our school and I admired the concrete mixer driver and wanted to follow suit when I finished my studies,” said the teary Debswana chief.


Things changed after the discovery of diamonds and realised that he can dream bigger, said Bonyongo who said that he is a product of diamonds.

At an evening gala dinner held at Gaborone International Convention Centre which brought together the captains of different industries including Members of Parliament, it was humbling to see the original prospectors especially Batswana old men mingling with the crème dela cream of the business world.


Bonyongo continued to heap tributes on the original prospectors in his welcoming remarks: “We celebrate the men and women who, over the past 45 years, have steadfastly mined diamonds safely and diligently with due regard to environmental protection and good relations with host communities.”

He continued to state that they are pioneers without whom the country would not be where it is now.


The heroes of Botswana’s economic development, partied with people they only saw on their television set or saw their images on newspapers like former Presidents Sir Ketumile Masire and Festus Mogae.

Like true Batswana after the party they took what is normally called ‘mohagonyana’ of drinks to their hotel rooms with their faces beaming with smiles.


The flight to Orapa

This reporter felt much honoured to be in a plane that chartered the original prospectors to Orapa and they were excited to visit the town that they literally created.


As the flight left Sir Seretse Khama Airport, most of them were excited and revealed that it was their first time to board a plane while those who claimed to have boarded it before kept on teasing others.

“Naare jaanong e eme hela mo marung ga e tsamaye golo mo ga lona(So this thing just stops in the sky?),” questioned one of the old man who was referred to as April.


“Golo mo ga se koloi kana bus monna ya tsamaya e ha gare ga maru (this is not a car or bus my friend it is cruising through the skies,” answered another one at the back.

In an hour we entered the Boteti area and some were peeping through the plane windows and joyfully shouted ‘that’s DK 1 mine!’


As the plane touched down at Orapa airport, they all excitedly wanted to exit the plane to breathe the air of Boteti which shaped their careers and lives.

They were whisked away in a luxurious coach to Orapa Sports Hall where the events of the day were held.


When emotions ran high

Giving an account of the discovery of the of the Orapa Mine, Jim Gibson who said he came to Botswana as a fresh graduate from university in 1964, told how they risked their lives in search of diamonds.


Orapa is a Sesarwa word meaning the resting place of lions and Gibson said that they used bicycles while doing their exploration.

 He told the guests who included the Minister of Minerals and Engery Kitso Mokaila that he did not anticipate the huge impact that diamonds will have on the lives of ordinary Batswana.


His voice got shaky as he narrated how they found Batswana wallowing in dire poverty and it was difficult to imagine that it would move out from the yoke of poverty.

“But here we are right now and the country is one the best developed in the world,” as he broke down in tears before he could finish his statement.


Tabona Machinya who was giving a Motswana’s perspective on the discovery of diamonds struggled to speak as he broke down in tears as he recalled the hardships they endured.

“We have done our part and it is now for the current generation to jealousy guard the riches we have accumulated for this country, but am worried at the way things are going right now,” as he wiped tears from his ears.


Machinya who worked in the geology department was overcome by emotions  and barely finished his sentences and it was clear he could not believe that his hard working has made Botswana one of Africa’s successful economic stories.

We have done our little part-Gibson


Gibson who was one of the three De Beers geologists who led a team of prospectors for the search of diamonds in Botswana said that he arrived in the country in 1963 and joined Dr Gavin Lamont who was their manager as well as Manfred Marx.

“It was not an easy job especially coming from a developed world and now coming into a country which by then was not independent and literally there were no development at all,” Gibson.


Gibson, a Scott geologist said that they nearly gave up in 1965 after traversing the breath and length of the country without any success.

“We told ourselves that in 1966 we are leaving but in July of the same year they found indicators in many samples they collected and knew that they were in the track of a kimberlite. The first diamondiferous kimberlite we discovered it on the 1st of March 1967 and we were very excited and knew that this is the beginning of mining in Botswana,” he said.


Gibson who was later to become senior geologist at the newly opened Orapa mine said that he saw the progress that the country made due to the discovery of diamonds.

Shedding tears, the Scott man said that he stayed in Botswana for more than 20 years and cannot believe that their work has turned the country which was devastated by drought developing so rapidly.


Do your part-Machinya

Machinya had never thought in his wild dreams that their work will turn around the fortunes of the country.


“We used to walk long distances in the bush terrain accompanying the geologists as their assistant during the exploration and it was risky,” said Machinya.

He believes that it was the hand of God that guided and protected them from dangers especially wild animals like lions which were very plenty.


Machinya who could not contain his emotions said that they have done their part in helping to discover the diamonds for their country. He called upon the contemporary generation to ensure that the diamonds are used to their full potential.

“I am worried that the current generation does not appreciate the good work we have done and it seems will destroy the legacy that we left for them,” said Machinya.

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