Sheila Khama is currently transitioning from CEO of De Beers Botswana to the company’s “Diamonds for Good” ambassador. She spoke with JCK after her “Diamonds and Development” talk at the Initiatives in Art and Culture’s “Diamonds” conference April 10 in NYC.
JCK: ?What is the state of Botswana’s cutting and polishing industry?
Sheila Khama: It has done better during the [economic] crisis than most cutting centers. At the start of the crisis, the Botswana industry had 15 factories. One was impacted to the point of closing. Within six months, another company had acquired its assets. When the crisis started, we had 3,000 workers in the industry. At its worst, it fell to 2,300. It’s now back to 2,500 jobs. That is a measure of the commitment the sightholders have to Botswana. They understand that the level of activity in Botswana is related to the level of supply. They see the value of staying in Botswana.
JCK: Have the factories proved profitable?
SK: I can’t speak for the independent factories. Their profits are their business. All of the cutting and polishing factories have met our supply criteria. We feel we have weathered the storm in terms of our clients.
JCK: De Beers’ sales agreement with Botswana expires this year. There were reports that the government was talking to Alrosa—the Russian diamond producer—and to the Indian government.
SK: As far as we know, the government of Botswana has not had any conversations with any other government regarding the sale of diamonds. One must remember there is a suite of agreements—the Jwaneng [mine] lease agreement, the sales agreement, and the [Diamond Trading Company] Botswana joint venture—that govern the mining and sale of diamonds in Botswana.
JCK: Do you expect more attempts to “brand” Botswana diamonds?
SK: The government of Botswana has created what they call “the Diamond Hub” to look at a strategy to extract more value and to make Botswana a diamond center. Should the government present a proposal, we would be happy to engage with them.
JCK: Do you think there will be more sales outside of De Beers?
SK: De Beers understands the aspirations of our producer partners. The biggest value driver is the sale of Debswana diamonds and the maintenance of price growth. We have had a very good agreement for 42 years where we have delivered consistently. You don’t want to change for the sake of change. The government of Botswana wants to find ways to create more value, and we share this vision.
jckonline.com: For the full interview, check out the “Cutting Remarks” blog