Debswana, the joint venture between the Botswana government and Anglo American’s De Beers unit, intends to invest US$6 billion to build the world’s largest underground diamond mine at Botswana’s Jwaneng. The mine is already considered the richest mine by value for the precious stones. The underground mine will have more than 360 km of tunnel development and is expected to hit full production by 2034, Debswana’s head of transformation and innovation, Thabo Balopi, said at a briefing in the capital, Gaborone, last Friday.
The underground mine will have a capacity of as much as 9 million carats per year, extending Jwaneng’s lifespan by 20 years, according to Balopi. “We are still doing the studies toward transforming to an underground producer, which is a very different environment, with different capabilities and mindset,” he said.
According to the acting managing director, Lynette Armstrong, going underground will be a “hurdle” for the group, which has operated exclusively as an open-pit miner since its establishment in the 1970s. “It’s a huge undertaking,” she said during the briefing. The last expansion at Jwaneng had a US$3 billion budget and transformed the mine into one of the world’s largest open-pit diamond operations.
As mines get deeper and costlier to run, Debswana is looking to convert its flagship Jwaneng mine into an underground mine. Jwaneng, in operation since 1982, has been expanded several times as its resources declined over the years. The mine is critical to De Beers and produced 7,5 million carats of the group’s 2020 output of 25,1 million carats.
In the first quarter of 2021, Jwaneng produced 3.2 million carats or 41% of De Beers’ total production. Debswana plans to increase output by 38% this year to pre-pandemic levels of 23 million carats.