‘Skills gap sti­fles di­a­mond min­ing’

Lesotho Times - - Business - Bereng Mpaki

LETŠENG Di­a­monds Chair­man, Clif­ford El­ph­ick, has be­moaned the dearth of tech­ni­cal skills in the coun­try, say­ing it was one of the ma­jor risks to the growth of the di­a­mond min­ing sec­tor.

Mr El­ph­ick made the re­mark last Fri­day dur­ing the launch of the Letšeng Di­a­mond Dis­cov­ery Cen­tre — a fa­cil­ity that pro­vides in­for­ma­tion about the di­a­mond min­ing in­dus­try in the coun­try.

The Letšeng Di­a­mond Dis­cov­ery Cen­tre is lo­cated on the ground floor of the firm’s head of­fice build­ing in Maseru, and takes vis­i­tors on a jour­ney of dis­cov­ery about the ori­gins of di­a­monds, their ex­trac­tion and uses. It is open to vis­i­tors dur­ing week­days, and em­ploys vis­ual and model il­lus­tra­tions to paint a vivid pic­ture of the di­a­mond min­ing in­dus­try. He said the skills short­age was cur­tail­ing the de­vel­op­ment of the sec­tor.

“The key risk to a sus­tain­able Letšeng and, a ma­jor hin­drance to the growth of the di­a­mond min­ing sec­tor in Le­sotho, is the lack of tech­ni­cal skills avail­able in Le­sotho to op­er­ate com­plex di­a­mond mines prop­erly,” said Mr El­ph­ick, who is also the chief ex­ec­u­tive of Gem Di­a­monds -which owns 70 per­cent of Letšeng Mine with the rest owned by the govern­ment of Le­sotho.

Too much at­ten­tion, he said, was placed on pol­i­tics in­stead of the de­vel­op­ment of the req­ui­site tech­ni­cal skills to sup­port di­a­mond min­ing, de­spite the sec­tor’s proven ca­pac­ity to con­trib­ute to the coun­try’s so­cio-eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment.

“In my opin­ion, a great deal of our time is wasted be­cause of the em­pha­sis which is placed ex­clu­sively on pol­i­tics without any time be­ing spent on as­sess­ing the eco­nomic im­pact of the de­lay in ac­quir­ing ad­e­quate skills for the con­tin­ued suc­cess of the in­dus­try,” Mr El­ph­ick said.

“Sim­ply put, en­sur­ing we have the cor­rect tech­ni­cal skills to op­er­ate Letšeng is the govern­ment of Le­sotho and Gem Di­a­mond’s big­gest risk and, there­fore, top pri­or­ity.”

He, how­ever, noted ef­forts by the govern- ment to ad­dress the skills short­age in the coun­try.

“I am very happy to re­port that re­cently there have been help­ful move­ment in this re­gard, which will ob­vi­ously de­liver the re­sults not only for Letšeng but for KAO Di­a­mond Mine and the emerg­ing Liqhobong Mine.

Mr El­ph­ick said Letšeng was also fac­ing the chal­lenge of low carat re­cov­ery as they get deeper into the earth.

He said Letšeng was ranked num­ber four in the world among the largest open pit di­a­mond mines by tonnes moved, but was the small­est carat pro­ducer be­cause of the “piti­ful grade we have to deal with”.

“The scale and com­plex­ity of Letšeng is widely recog­nised for be­ing the low­est grade ore body by far in the in­dus­try at 1 500 carats per 100 tonnes of kim­ber­lite mined,” said Mr El­ph­ick.

“To put that into con­text, we re­cover three grammes of di­a­monds for every 100 tonnes of kim­ber­lite pro­cessed, but to get that 100 tonnes, we are mov­ing a fur­ther 3 200 tonnes of basalt and that num­ber is grow­ing rapidly as we go deeper.”

De­spite Letšeng’s ap­par­ent chal­lenges, he said it re­mained one of the pro­duc­ers of the world’s finest qual­ity di­a­monds.

“Letšeng is in­ter­na­tion­ally-renowned for pro­duc­ing some of the finest qual­ity gems in the world. Four of the 20 largest, white gem qual­ity di­a­monds in the world were re­cov­ered from Letšeng.

“Letšeng is Le­sotho’s, and one of the world’s most trea­sured crown jew­els. While Karowe Mine in Botswana has now dis­placed Letšeng as the big­gest pro­ducer of large di­a­monds, nev­er­the­less, Letšeng re­mains im­por­tant.” Mr El­ph­ick said.

The mine’s con­tri­bu­tion to the di­a­mond in­dus­try, he said, had been in­creas­ing over the years.

“From a stand­ing start to pro­cess­ing 2.3 mil­lion tonnes of ore and re­cov­er­ing about 50 000 carats per an­num in 2004 to min­ing ap­prox­i­mately 35 mil­lion tonnes and pro­duc­ing 108 000 carats per an­num in 2015 is re­mark­able growth.”

Mr El­ph­ick added that Letšeng’s con­tri­bu­tion to the coun­try’s gross do­mes­tic prod­uct in 2015 was ap­prox­i­mately nine per­cent, adding that the mine was the largest tax­payer and con­trib­u­tor of for­eign earn­ings in the coun­try.

LETŠENG Di­a­monds Chair­man Clif­ford El­ph­ick.

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