Majwe Mining : The Prince of Mines in Botswana

Editorial Team
Editorial Team

Project Director of Majwe Mining, Rod Fraser, tells us of the benefits of large scale contract mining – a relatively new concept in Botswana – and provides insight into the Cut 8 Project at Jwaneng Diamond Mine in Botswana.


As a Joint Venture company, Majwe Mining have been able to draw on the strengths of three companies from three different countries, bringing together both international experience and a wide array of industry knowledge from Australia, Republic of South Africa and Botswana.

Hired by Debswana Diamond Company Ltd as the contractor for the Cut 8 Phase 2 Contract, Majwe Mining is set to move over 156 million cubic metres of material over the full term of its contract. Debswana is a partnership between the Government of the Republic of Botswana and the De Beers Diamond Company and is one of the world’s largest diamond producers by value.

Debswana has mining operations at Jwaneng, Orapa, Letlhakane and Damtshaa in Botswana, and plays a fundamental role in Botswana’s economy, producing over 70% of the country’s export earnings and 30 per cent of its GDP. Moreover, as pits continue to go deeper to access more diamonds, this drives the overall strip ratios up, which means the need for more cost effective solutions, efficiencies and productivities that large scale mining contractors can deliver are going to become more and more important. As Majwe’s first contract in Southern Africa, Rod Fraser, Projects Director, tells us more about the mine and the impact it has had on the Batswana economy.


Tell me about the Cut 8 Project in more detail

Formed between Leighton (the world’s largest contract miner in prime locations across Australia, Asia, Middle East and Africa), Basil Read Mining and Bothagka Burrow Botswana (a local contract mining company), Majwe Mining was formed with the sole purpose of working on the Cut 8 Phase 2 project as the contractor at Jwaneng Diamond Mine. The Jwaneng Diamond Mine is owned by the Debswana Diamond Mining Company and it is the richest diamond mine in the world by value. Majwe’s contract is to mine what we call Cut 8. Cut 8 contains 156 Mbcm of material to be mined in a 66 month timeframe in order to provide access to the diamond bearing pipes underneath. As part of our contract, our job is to maintain, plan and schedule all of the equipment and safely manage it all. With a contract valued at $586 million, Majwe Mining will move 400 million tonnes of waste between 2011 and completion in 2016. This is our first contract in Southern Africa but we want to grow our business and bring our people along on the journey with us.

The Cut 8 project is a project of national significance and is critical to the Batswana economy. As a result of the mine’s importance, the project must be delivered on time in order to ensure continuity of diamond bearing ore into the Jwaneng process plant, and consequently diamonds to help fuel the growth of the economy.

What has your biggest challenge been and how do you intend to combat it?

Our biggest challenge at the moment is to boost our effective hours and our dig rates. We have the three biggest electric rope shovels on the continent and a fleet of ultra-class trucks. We need to double side load with the shovels at all faces with thirty second buckets. The trucks are set up for 300 tonne payloads and the shovels deliver 100 tonnes in each bucket, therefore three passes to load a truck in 90 seconds. We have operated at these levels for short periods of time but we need to continue to strive to bring all of the systems (people, planning, power, water, maintenance) together in a fully integrated manner so that we can be more consistent with our production.

How would you sum up the current state of the mining industry in Botswana?

The industry is growing, there are new opportunities opening up. There will be more large scale contracting opportunities in the future as the mines get bigger and more complex. As contractors we need to be able deliver value to our client’s operations through efficiencies and productivities because we’re able to concentrate on the operational side of things, which theoretically should free our clients up to concentrate on what they need to do which is sell their product into the market at the best price possible and replace depleted ore reserves via exploration and mine development or acquisition. 

There is no reason that the mining industry in Botswana cannot compete with the Chileans, the Australians, the Canadians and the Brazilians. There are a few work practices that need to change. For example we are the first company to operate a large scale mine here with a 12 hour shift cycle. Most other places operate an 8 hour cycle. For the Batswana Mining Industry to really take its rightful place on the global stage a lot more operations will have to embrace these more modern work cycles and the boost in productivity that they deliver, especially as the capital intensity of the equipment increases.

How has being influenced by your Australian, South African and Batswana knowledge helped cement the local reputation of the mine?

You don’t know what you don’t know. If we operate within a vacuum with no outside influences or new ideas all things will eventually reach stagnation where no improvement can occur. Botswana as a nation seems to be acutely aware of the need to engage with the rest of the world. They have to their credit sent many of their children overseas to study at universities abroad and then they have come home to help contribute to the development of the country and its economy. Additionally the country has been open to people from the outside coming in with their ideas and methodologies and making a contribution as well. Operating the sort of equipment we do and on the scale that we do with the technical requirements that come with it, there was a definite requirement to bring in some skills and experience from outside of the country and work to transfer those skills to the locals.

We also have to remember that large scale contract mining is a relatively new concept in this country. There has been small contracting around just as there is in other parts of the world but the big operations are generally executed by a mining house rather than a contractor who is willing to take on production and machine availability risk. Majwe, via its shareholders, has the backing of the biggest mining contractor on the planet in Leighton Holdings. We have no problem in bringing the strength of a Leighton Holdings along with our South African partner, with all of its contracting experience, to the table for the benefit of our client. Our local partner in Bothakga Burrow Botswana plays an absolutely pivotal role in terms of country knowledge, supply chain knowledge and very important understanding of the cultural work environment.

We recently had two shovel operators leave us who had been head hunted to go and work in Zambia where there is a shovel just commencing operation that is the same as our three shovels. We let these guys go with our blessing. We had trained them from scratch and now we had turned them into a wanted commodity with skills that were wanted both at home and abroad; skill that others desired. These two can now really go places. They are breaking new ground for a Motswana and the world is now their oyster. This was manifestation of the skills transfer actually starting to be visible. It was an exciting moment for us.

Tell me more about your local labour force and what training you provide them with

Bearing in mind the wide array of duties to be completed on site such as mine scheduling, drill and blast, load and haul and maintenance, it is vital for Majwe to secure a sufficiently skilled labour force. We currently employ over 800 people, all of whom are Batswana except for 12 expatriates. On top of these figures our sub-contractors employ a further 236 people. It is so important for us to hire local people; as we contribute to the country’s GDP so heavily. On average, every member of Majwe staff receives up to one and a half days of training every month. We train operators using cutting edge simulators of which we have two, we have trained people in computers, firefighting and first aid, personal finance, HIV and other health related issues, equipment maintenance. We have sent people to Australia to witness operations and also to undertake 6 to 12 month secondments on our mine sites there. We currently want to upscale our programme and send supervisors and operators and artisans to Australia to work in our mines there for short periods of time to expose them to different ways of doing things.

The entire workforce understand they are all part of the business and if the business succeeds then they will reap the benefits of that both by longer term employment as we pick up more contracts, and our ability to deliver better pay and conditions for our people. We are all in the Majwe team together and we will all benefit from the growth and success of the business going forward. Personally, I think our entire workforce display outstanding commitment to this business. They contribute wholeheartedly every day, which potentially means they could be part of something very special if we succeed at Cut 8. Consequently, Cut 8 will open a lot of doors and career pathways for all involved no matter what they role they do.

You mentioned that you like to take a “pragmatic approach to safety”, what do you mean by this?

We have brought a lot of safety processes with us from Australia but we still have room for improvement on the implementation of those processes. We don’t sell simply diamonds or gold or copper or iron ore. We sell a service. That service is not of value if it cannot be done safely. We know the forces and the energies that we deal with on a daily basis are extreme and are lethal if not managed. We like to look for solutions to issues where we engineer the problem out. We try to avoid the administrative solution where we can and we call this “working above the line”. So below the line is the administrative solution while above it is the engineering, substitution, elimination type approaches to a problem.

Additionally we want to introduce new thinking into Botswana when it comes to the environment. We have introduced a machine that cleans the filters for the truck fleet so that we can re-use them. This is a first for Botswana. Previously the filters would be thrown away now we can re-life them, which is good for the environment and good for operating costs.

What about the local community? How do you work with them to create encourage development?

Answered by Archibald Ngakayagae, Chief of Public and Corporate Affairs at Majwe Mining

While we are very committed to meet what our client, Debswana, has contracted us to do operationally we also have a strong conviction that wherever we operate we are guests of the local community. As part of our efforts to engage with these local communities, we make special efforts to support local community groups and charities through sponsorships. Our Sponsorship Policy also aims at creating partnerships and collaborating with reputable organisations for the improvement of local socio-economic development programmes.

We have since extended our helping hand to many development projects that are aimed at uplifting the lives of the less privileged members of our communities and we sponsor projects that enable and add value to the lives of all our communities. Some of the projects that we had already embarked on are; collaborating with the Department of Road Transport and Safety (DRTS), Jwaneng Primary Schools and the Jwaneng Police Traffic Department to roll out the Safe Scholar Crossing Programme for school children in Jwaneng. This is a National Road Safety Education programme (NaRSEC) which has been developed by DRTS to address traffic problems in Botswana.

We have also launched a one million Pula project called Majwe Academic Excellence Awards. Under this three year programme, Majwe has adopted all of Jwaneng’s seven Primary and Junior Secondary School prize-giving ceremonies. The programme intends to celebrate success, outstanding academic and extra-curricular achievement by the school’s students. A key objective is to improve the examination results in the region and to achieve one of Botswana’s Vision 2016 Pillars of an ‘Educated and Informed Nation’.

Majwe Mining has realised that there is need to heed to the government’s challenge of poor academic performance by students and many other problems faced by the education system in our country. To extend its helping hand, Majwe Mining together with the assistance of our sub-contractors – Otraco and Danoher – decided to “Adopt” Lotlamoreng Junior Secondary School. We bought a double wide steel office unit (6 Offices, a staff room space, two separate toilets, and a kitchen) for the school.

Majwe Mining has also contributed in health; one of the notable projects is handing over a three office portacabins to be used for the HIV & Aids / ARV programme at Mabule to serve the village and another four communities namely, Tshidilamolomo, Mmakgori, Banyana Farms and Leporung. The communities of Mabule catchment area have been attending their full ARV consultation from Good- Hope, which is 120 Km away. This was strenuous and very costly for both the community and the government as some patients needed to be regularly transported to Good-Hope for their medications and checkups.

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