By Mpho Tebele
Gaborone - Botswana opposition parties have expressed concern at the decision by De Beers to enter the synthetic diamond market.
On the other hand, the government has allayed such fears saying there was no need to press a panic button.
The leader of the opposition and President of Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), Duma Boko, said the decision by De Beers to enter synthetic diamonds market should send warning bells to the government.
“...De Beers has entered into the synthetic diamonds market. What does that do? Botswana thinks it has rough diamonds and we are negotiating with De Beers. But De Beers says I don’t need you.
I can go and penetrate the synthetic diamond market,” said Boko, whose UDC is made up of four opposition parties that form the coalition.
He added that the reason De Beers decided to enter the synthetic diamond market is that world’s superpowers like China and Russia have become big consumers of synthetic diamonds.
According to Boko, De Beers has realised that there is a market shift since the young generation is no longer interested in diamonds but gadgets like smartphones.
“There is a challenge in the diamond market; the market is shifting from the original diamonds and because De Beers is involved in this they know about these trends. It is going to be difficult to market diamonds,” he said, adding that “This is something that a forward-thinking government must understand.”
Boko also said De Beers had never shown interest in the cutting and polishing sector because there is no value in that.
“They don’t play a part in cutting and polishing. Why? Because there is no value in cutting and polishing, not of serious nature. If there is value, De Beers would have owned the polishing and cutting industry.
That is the challenge you face. How then do unlock jobs from a portion of the value chain that is absolutely of no consequence,” he said in reference to President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s announcement that Botswana intends to create jobs through cutting and polishing of rough diamonds.
But the Minister of Minerals, Eric Molale, said the Botswana government was consulted when the decision to enter synthetic diamonds was taken.
He said they supported the decision and believe that Botswana would benefit from the decision as it has a 15% stake in De Beers.
Botswana is one of the world’s big exporters of diamonds.
The southern African country has a 50/50 joint venture called Debswana through a mining company located in Botswana, which is the world’s leading producer of diamonds by value.
De Beers announced recently that it would spend US$94 million over the next four years on a new brand, Lightbox, that would produce and market laboratory-grown diamonds.
Molale said the move by De Beers to enter the synthetic diamond market would help stabilise the market, as De Beers will be selling its fake stones at a below market price, which would help stabilise the prices of the natural stones.
“We have partnered with De Beers over the past 30 years to do a research on synthetics,” Molale said.