New Era recently sent several questions on Namdeb to Dr Elijah Ngurare the Secretary of the Swapo Party Youth League (SPYL) in his capacity as the Deputy Chairperson of the Board of Namdeb Holdings.
NE: Tell us about Namdeb and your role there?
EN: I am the Deputy Chairman of Namdeb Holdings appointed by Hon. Comrade Isak Katali, the Minister of Mines and Energy through Cabinet. The two shareholders, GRN and De Beers created Namdeb Holdings to be the vehicle that holds the mining licences and ultimately owns all the diamonds mined by Namdeb and Debmarine Namibia. In other words, it is the holding company of the two shareholders’ diamond mining interests here in Namibia. Philippe Mellier, the De Beers Group CEO, is the chairman.
NE: What are your views about Namdeb – the partnership between GRN and De Beers?
EN: Prior to my joining the board as a director in 2012, I had only an elementary understanding about Namdeb. Now, that I have a better understanding, I have no doubt, that this partnership represents the best commercial deal for the people of Namibia. Government collects taxes and royalties – like from any other mining company. Then, government also gets 50 percent of all profits available for distribution. Can there be a better model than this? As a Namibian, I am very happy that we share at this level. This model is testimony to what we have been saying for a long time; yes we want foreign investors like De Beers in our country, but we also want to share in the profits. I am very pleased. In addition, as a little child growing up in Kavango, I used to hear about “Lange” and people who have gone to work there. Often they leave to be seen only once a year or every two years. I imagine the same is true for most people from regions like Zambezi, Ohangwena, Oshikoto, Oshana, Otjozondjupa, Omusati and Kunene. In other words, the labour force of diamond mining has come from that part of the country. I therefore wish to see a Namdeb that uses the Namdeb Foundation its social responsibility arm to benefit the children from these areas as well as it does for those in the Khomas, Hardap and /Karas regions. Mining diamonds is good, but more noble is mining minds and the manufacturing of knowledge.
NE: Talking of taxes, Namdeb has been asking for government to reduce its taxes, what do you think?
EN: I do not think Namdeb wants this important matter to be discussed with government in the media. My understanding is that Namdeb is seeking to expand the business into unknown areas that require new technology. It would seem that they are struggling to make the numbers add up, without a discussion with the shareholders about various matters. I don’t think this is a discussion about government simply reducing taxes – my view is that it should be a discussion about how we can make this investment happen – what are the factors and how do we address them. Tax is just one of many factors, and to speak about tax in isolation to those factors may be misleading. My understanding is that there are trade-offs to be considered in terms of short-term gains and long-term sustainability for the land operations. This is a mature operation, which has undergone many changes and has reached a point where investment in new projects requires different and innovative financing approaches, which requires good returns to justify investment. On our marine side – we have Debmarine Namibia. This is a truly world leading mining operation that all Namibians should be proud of. Debmarine Namibia is an example of what we mean by world-class. Many scientists from as far afield as Japan, USA and other first-world countries travel to Namibia to see what we are doing in Debmarine Namibia. We are setting global benchmarks for marine diamond mining. I am very pleased with that operation.
NE: There was a terrible strike – not so long ago. How is the situation now?
EN: Yes, that was indeed terrible. It was prior to my joining the board, but I was very much aware of the situation. I am pleased to say that I was in Oranjemund last month for our quarterly Operations and Technical Review meetings. I took the opportunity to meet with the various comrades on the ground. I must say that the atmosphere has improved dramatically since those days. Both the leadership of the MUN and management deserve credit for this. I am not naïve and understand that labour relations are fluid and the situation can change at any moment. But for now – things are really much better. I always make it a point to remind management and my fellow directors, that no enterprise can have success, unless there is industrial harmony. Labour relations are about give and take – and I encourage my colleagues in Namdeb to always apply this principle in their dealings. The Namdeb Holdings business is hugely important to Namibia. We must work hard to ensure it grows, remains stable and we invest appropriately to ensure a brighter future for the next generation. It is a real privilege to have an opportunity to serve the people of Namibia in this capacity.
NE: Recently you visited the UK and Belgium, how was the experience?
EN: Yes, I visited those countries in order to familiariase myself with De Beers, our joint venture partner. The CEO, Comrade Inge Zamwaani-Kamwi, a sterling and hard working Namibian gem accompanied me. Upon my return, I briefed the Minister of Mines and Energy, Comrade Isak Katali, a person I believe President Pohamba made a right choice in appointing to that ministry, and collectively as Namibians we must support him in his work of deriving maximum benefit from the resources of Namibia for the benefit of all Namibians.
NE: How has the De Beers decision to move some of its major base operations of rough-stone sorting and trading enterprises from London to Botswana in 2012 benefitted Namibia in terms of diamond trading?
EN: Perhaps the question is best directed to De Beers or the government of Botswana. But as an African, any development that brings commercial and trade activities to the shores of Africa, has to be a good thing. This is especially so, since a substantial amount of diamonds that are sold through De Beers are mined in southern Africa. As the largest producer of diamonds in the world (by value), it makes sense that the De Beers functions of sales and aggregation will now take place in Gaborone. I believe countries like Namibia and South Africa will benefit from increased traffic of diamantaires travelling to southern Africa. Some of the world’s richest diamantaires will now travel to southern Africa on a regular basis for their sights. We have also seen an increase in cutting and polishing activities in Namibia, this development can only bode well for our beneficiation programmes. Air Namibia must look at opportunities of direct flights to Gaborone to divert some of the travellers to Namibia to Gaborone to ensure Namibia gets further benefits as a result of this move.
NE: Since diamond exports from Namibia have now been re-directed to Gaborone instead of London, how is the trade and investment relationship between Namibia and Botswana?
EN: Namibia and Botswana are neighbours. I believe we share good neighbourliness and have strong cultural ties with the people of Botswana. This move can only enhance the already sound bilateral relations between our two countries.
NE: Any final thoughts?
EN: I believe that Namibians must benefit from the resources of Namibia. This is best done through a proper structure that is regulated by government. Namdeb and Epangelo Mining are proper institutions to get this done. I learned recently that there are some people who were or perhaps are planning to lay their hands on the shares of government in Namdeb for their own. This we must discourage and condemn. As a student of environmental law, I learned about the principles of inter-generational equity and sustainable development. This entails managing the nation’s resources to benefit the present without compromising future generation from benefiting through the same resource. Therefore, let us manage our resources in such a way that future generations too must inherit them sustainably. This is the economic patriotism I hope every Namibian should uphold.