De Beers ‘vies’ for Murowa: will Zim throw spanners in the wheel?

Mathew Nyaungwa

The Zimbabwe Independent reported that De Beers Consolidated Mines, the diamond group’s South African unit is one of the seven potential suitors eyeing the takeover of part of Rio Tinto’s 78 percent stake in Murowa diamond mine in Zimbabwe.

Most of those bidders are consortia comprising local and South African investors. They include some of the large South African mining houses already significantly involved in diamonds,” it quoted some unnamed sources as saying.

“The first imperative is for the whole deal to comply with the country’s indigenisation laws. This means that only 49 percent of Rio Tinto’s stake is available for possible acquisition by non-indigenous players, whilst indigenous partners will take up the additional 19 percent required to reach the 51 percent.”

DeBeers, according to the weekly, had previously done some extensive exploration work in the area but failed to locate the diamond deposit, which was eventually found by Rio Tinto geologists at the site of the current Murowa Diamond Mine.

This perhaps explained their interest in the kimberlite mine.

Estimates of mine reserves were 19 million tonnes of ore, with an ore grade of 0.9 carats (180 mg) per tonne.

Rio Tinto also estimated that prices for Murowa’s production would fetch an average price of $65 per carat over the life of the mine.

What was interesting about De Beers’ alleged bid for a stake in Murowa diamond mine was that the group’s relationship with the Zimbabwean government was not cosy at all.

Zimbabwe’s Mines and Mining Development minister Obert Mpofu had over the past few years accused De Beers of looting Marange diamonds for over 15 years under the guise of exploration.
He repeated his accusations at the Zimbabwe diamond mining conference last November saying  De Beers looted more than 100 000 tonnes of diamond ore during its stay in the area.

In fact, my records show that they collected more than 100 000 tonnes of diamond concentrate and this was mostly alluvial, but they say they still want to find out whether they are diamonds or not,” he said at the time.

Even up to today, I have not got a report about what happened to our samples. In Marange, it doesn’t take two minutes to find out that they are diamonds, but it took them 15 years. What hypocrisy!

De Beers, however, denied the allegations saying everything they did in Marange was above board.

As part of the prospecting work programme to search for the possible kimberlite sources for the diamonds emanating from the Marange area, as well as understand the geological nature of the Marange diamond deposit itself, De Beers routinely collected soil and rock samples across the Marange region, which were submitted to the De Beers laboratories in South Africa for analysis,” said the group’s media relations manager Lynette Gould.

Such samples were exported through and with the authorization of the Geological Survey of Zimbabwe in accordance with all the necessary export procedures and suitably signed off.

Gould said the prospecting reports detailing the results and analyses were submitted to the Minister of Mines, in accordance with the Zimbabwe legislation and their management of the EPOs. (Exclusive Prospecting orders)

De Beers group’s high-quality diamond retail arm Forevermark also stocked-up fires when it said in 2011 that it will not sell diamonds from Marange fields as there were generally too small and low in quality for the brand to sell.

This annoyed Zimbabwe’s deputy Mines and Mining Development Minister Gift Chimanikire who countered saying that the southern African nation had no plans to sell its diamonds to the “lowly ranked” De Beers.

He said the group was “just but a small player in the industry”.

So, with this bad blood between the two one wonders whether Harare would throw spanners in the wheel should Rio Tinto chooses De Beers to buy part of its stake in the diamond mine.

Of course this is all speculative, but the temptation to say bigotry will reign supreme should the deal go in favour of De Beers, was high.

As the cliché goes: only time will tell!

Source Rough & Polished