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Africa: Diamonds Are Forever
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Africa: Diamonds Are Forever

Unlike other African countries, where the discovery of diamonds has turned into a curse, in Botswana the nation's geological wealth has been shared for the greater good.

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Segment 1

TITLE
Diamonds are Forever
VOICEOVER
For over 40 years in an arid, landlocked country in the heart of Southern Africa, a quiet economic and social miracle has been taking place. Despite the ethnic and economic turmoil that surrounds it, Botswana has risen to become the star of Africa. Around the world, for a thousand years, that most valued gemstone, the diamond, has adorned the bodies of the rich and famous. These sparkling stones have transformed Botswana from one of the poorest countries in the world to, so far, one of the most prosperous and stable countries in Africa.
KGOMOTSO MPHETLHE [Diamond Trading Company of Botswana Worker]
These ones are fancy. The more they get polished, sometimes they lose their greenness but the white ones will always remain white ones.
VOICEOVER
Kgomotso Mphetlhe says her life has also been transformed.
KGOMOTSO MPHETLHE
I am what I am because of the diamonds, whoever is out there, is out there because of the diamonds, the schools, the infrastructure, the whole development that you see, it's because of the diamonds.
VOICEOVER
When, in 1966, Botswana gained independence from Britain, the nation's best-kept secret was made public. The country had diamonds, and lots of them. At independence, the capital, Gaborone, was a remote cattle station on the edge of the Kalahari Desert. Now, thanks to revenue from the mines, it is a thriving modern city. It's how Botswana manages its wealth that singles out this tiny African nation from some of its other resource-rich near neighbors.
NTETLENG MASISI [Business and Trade Consultant]
Good governance. A government that is not looking at enriching itself, a government that is not looking at using diamonds to fight within and outside. A government that used diamonds to bring about health facilities, education, and a markedly improved quality of life.
VOICEOVER
Unlike other African countries, where the discovery of diamonds has turned into a curse with the so-called blood or conflict diamonds fueling exploitation, subversion and division, in Botswana the nation's geological wealth -- worth about USD$3 billion a year -- has been shared.
MATOME MALEMA [Orapa Mine General Manager]
In Botswana, the legislation is such that all mineral rights [are] actually vested in the Republic of Botswana. They don't belong to a tribe or to a community. They belong to the country.
VOICEOVER
But 50 percent of the diamonds go to the giant of the diamond business, DeBeers. The Republic of Botswana and DeBeers formed a company, Debswana, to mine and market the diamonds to the world.
NTETLENG MASISI
Well, if you go back to the level of our sophistication at the time when we went into partnership with them, you will realize they did a lot for us. Because, at the time, we didn't really know where to begin, what to do, and we really needed somebody like that to hold our hand and walk us through.
VOICEOVER
Ntetleng Masisi says it was a business partnership borne out of necessity.
NTETLENG MASISI
The earnings from our exports of diamonds have really done a lot for us. Agriculture used to be our mainstay and it used to bring us the revenue for government, but once the diamonds came in there was a marked difference, a very big difference.
VOICEOVER
Kgomotso Mphetlhe started working at the Diamond Trading Company of Botswana straight from high school. She now sorts and grades the precious stones.
KGOMOTSO MPHETLHE
Young as I was, I think I had the passion for learning more about diamonds. As you know, I think most Botswanans are not exposed to diamonds. They hear about them, they haven't seen them, most of them. So for me it was an opportunity to actually come in and touch them and work with them and feel what they are like.
VOICEOVER
As a child Mphetlhe grew up in a poor, rural community. But her country was transforming and so were her ambitions.
KGOMOTSO MPHETLHE
It has always been my dream that I own my home. I had even set a timeframe for it. I had said that before I reach the age of 35 I should have my own home and that I am paying the mortgage and am comfortably set.
VOICEOVER
She reached that goal ahead of schedule, and now, at 34, she's one of Botswana's growing middle class. And this is the source of Mphetlhe's and Botswana's wealth: Orapa, "the resting place of lions," on the northern edge of the Kalahari Desert.
JOSHUA DODO [Orapa Mine Worker]
This is the mine that has built this country. All the resources, the money that has come out it has been invested into building this country.
VOICEOVER
Since mining began here in 1971, more than 336 million tons of soil has been pulled out of this pit along with 272 million carats of diamonds. Although the global economic crisis saw job cuts last year and the mine suspended operations for a number of weeks as demand worldwide slowed down, they say there are enough diamonds here to keep miners busy for decades to come.
JOSHUA DODO
It is going to get bigger. Since 1971 we have mined two cuts, we are on cut number two. And we will be going to a third cut which will start possibly in the next five or six years from now.
VOICEOVER
Mine manager Matome Malema says unlike most companies that exploited Africa's resources, and like many who continue to this day, DeBeers did not simply plunder.
MATOME MALEMA [Orapa Mine General Manager]
One would probably reflect back and say that if you look back at some of the major mining companies in the world, their relationship with governments across the world has not been the best that they could be. But in the case of Debswana, you've got this 40, 41-year relationship that has moved from strength to strength over the years.
VOICEOVER
This clinic has gone from very humble beginnings to a fully-fledged hospital with money from the mine. But it's not just for the mineworkers: the entire community has access to the facilities. Dr Mwamba Nsebula has worked here for almost a decade.
DR. MWAMBA NSEBULA
It was a house, a one-room house, like a first aid station. Together with the exploration as the mine was set up, it became two rooms, and then, with that, now we've just added on more buildings. Now we have ... we are at a stage where we have a high-care unit, a resuscitation room, we have a theater, and we have several wards to accommodate inpatients.
VOICEOVER
Dr. Nsebula says the company cares for two reasons.
DR. MWAMBA NSEBULA
One is a selfish reason: that we want our workforce to remain productive for as long as possible, but also because the company cares, and would like to demonstrate that caring attitude by partnering with the government and providing a service to the community.
VOICEOVER
Botswana made an early decision to grow its own workforce, with diamond revenues funding education abroad. Mine general manager Matome Malema owes both his education and his career to diamonds and Debswana.
MATOME MALEMA
When I finished high school I actually got a scholarship from Debswana, so Debswana basically trained me to become a metallurgical engineer that I am at the moment, and then I came back to Debswana and worked my way up the ranks. So it is a typical story of a rural boy moving from a rural boy to a general manager of one of the largest mines in the world.
INTERVIEWER
Pretty good going.
MATOME MALEMA
Very much so.
VOICEOVER
But for a country that prides itself on being the world's largest diamond producer, there is one hurdle it is yet to overcome. And that's being able to sell the diamonds it produces at home, for jewelry to be made locally. DeBeers has long controlled the sale of diamonds on a global scale. Now it's being pushed to give more back to Botswana.
REPORTER
So it's time to value add?
NTETLENG MASISI
Yes, it's time to value add, but then you don't do it in a manner that will destroy partnerships like those. Because you still do need them, because diamonds are a very delicate product to market and so you don't scorn your partners when you think you are there.
VOICEOVER
Botswana's wealth has a cost. Now almost totally reliant on money from diamonds, the country's welfare, and future, is now in the hands of the diamond traders and at the whims of the international market. But, for Kgomotso Mphetlhe, spending time in one of the growing number of shopping malls that cater for Botswana's new middle class, the possibilities appear endless.
KGOMOTSO MPHETLHE
I think there are so many opportunities that are still coming, so I want to put myself in a level that I'll be able to achieve what I am dreaming of achieving. So, like, in South Africa, you know there are women who are in the mining industry, there are women who are running the show, so I think I want to be one of those. That's my dream.
TITLE
[end credits]