Finding mines is a risky endeavour, with no guaranteed rewards. Junior explorers are typically leaner and nimbler than more established mining companies and coupled with experienced management these qualities translate into lower overheads and accelerated project timeframes without compromising quality of work. We believe that the agility and flexibility of Botswana Diamonds plc’s (‘BOD’) is an advantage, particularly during the early exploration stages.
The Company is actively exploring in Botswana and South Africa and will soon be active in Zimbabwe. The Kaapvaal Craton, which straddles the three countries, is a highly prospective region for diamond exploration: the craton hosts a substantial number of kimberlites and has a history of diamond production dating back to 1866. Despite the long history of diamond production on the Kaapvaal, BOD believes that there remain significant opportunities for commercial discoveries, particularly due to the lack of recent advanced exploration techniques being deployed in much of the region due to perceived political risk factors. Future discoveries may include the re-discovery of previously mined, long forgotten, diamondiferous kimberlites, as well as the re-assessment of known historic discoveries using modern exploration techniques. A very striking example of the latter is BOD’s predecessor African Diamonds plc (‘AFD’) which developed the AK6 deposit, now the world-famous Karowe Mine, in Botswana.
Whilst some investors may be enticed by a junior explorer’s value proposition, most are discouraged by perceptions of hostile investment environments and excessive bureaucracy which translates into higher risk. The onus thus rests on the junior explorer to build investors’ confidence through demonstrable competence, agility, tenacity and of course a strong track record.
Results of an economic competitiveness analysis across five southern African mining and fiscal regimes conducted by the Company indicate diamond project valuations to be most impacted by resource nationalism brought on by varying degrees of free carry and mineral royalties, as well as perceptions of the political risk environment.
The study found that the viability of marginal projects is diminished in Botswana due to the high rates of diamond royalties in that country. Conversely it found that South Africa’s comparatively lower royalties and cost of operation, relative to other southern African diamond producers, augment the potential return on investment. However, perceptions of South Africa’s political and legislative regimes add to risk and discount rates despite a far improved Mining Charter which was recently promulgated.
Political risk in both Zimbabwe and South Africa has lowered in recent months and thus diamond exploration is beginning to regain momentum, as demonstrated by some majors staking ground in both countries.
The latest Fraser Institute mining investment attractiveness rankings support our strategy: overall rankings for South Africa and Zimbabwe have improved despite the unresolved challenges, while Botswana remains the highest ranked country in Africa from a policy perspective. Certainty around title to ground and ownership rights is key to investors who are prepared to commit beyond the early speculative phase.
Explorers cannot afford to be too selective over political demarcations of their areas of interest, as geology does not follow any political boundaries. Certain diamond producing countries, like Botswana, have achieved prosperity and political stability thanks to the sensible exploitation of the very diamond resources that explorers seek to discover. Others still have some way to go.
BOD has adopted a prospect generator model, whereby, the Company’s significant level of technical expertise and diamond industry networks are leveraged to secure prospective early-stage projects and assess the initial potential of these projects using low-cost advanced exploration methods such as geophysics and geochemical sampling. Subsequently depending on the opportunity, the Company may seek to risk share or joint venture a project or advance it through the drilling and resource estimation stage, if significant value can be added with limited exploration risk and cost.
As a result of this strategy, the Company has assembled a portfolio of projects in Botswana and South Africa and is expanding this by acquiring additional ground in Zimbabwe in partnership with Vast Resources plc (‘Vast’). Risk is balanced through a mix of ownership models, stages of project development and optionality within the project portfolio.
Botswana is the world’s largest diamond producer by value and the second largest by volume. This country hosts world leading diamond mines, such as Orapa and Jwaneng, as well as the highly profitable Karowe mine. Three quarters of Botswana’s annual diamond production is of gem quality. The second largest diamond ever found, the 1,109ct Lesedi La Rona, was unearthed from Karowe mine in 2015.
Due to Botswana’s long track record of prudent economic management and the build-up of substantial financial reserves, the country has consistently been awarded the highest credit ratings in Africa. Botswana is long accepted as the best address for diamond investment.