Marine Diamonds & Mining

Namibia is among the world’s top ten producers of gem quality diamonds. The entire coastline off the Orange River mouth is a treasure chest of diamonds – estimated at more than 80 million carats. These precious gemstones made a long journey, washed along ancient river courses from the interior of South Africa into the Atlantic Ocean. The longshore drift of the Atlantic carried them northward and deposited them on raised beaches and on the seabed millions of years ago. Only the strongest gems survived the journey to the ocean, and the Atlantic currents and surf polished them further until they became top quality gems.

The mining industry is the country’s largest export earner and accounts for around 56% of Namibia’s exports and around 10% to the GDP.  It is also one of the country’s major employers with about 14,500 direct jobs.

 

Image supplied © Namdeb

 

The economic interest of valuable minerals

 

The discovery of a diamond by a railway worker, Zacharias Lewala, about 10 km inland from the southern coastal town of Lüderitz in 1908 resulted in a diamond rush of an unprecedented scale. A diamond mining settlement sprung up virtually overnight at Kolmanskop and at various other diamond fields along the coast. Consolidated Diamond Mines (CDM), a wholly owned subsidiary of De Beers Consolidated Mines, obtained the exclusive rights to prospect and mine in Diamond Area No. 1 – an area known as the Sperrgebiet, or forbidden territory, since colonial times. 

CDM moved its headquarters to Oranjemund at the Orange River mouth in 1943 and more and richer diamond deposits were subsequently discovered along the coast over a distance of about 100 km north of Oranjemund in 1928. Mining operations at Kolmanskop ceased in 1950 and nature started to reclaim the town. In just a few years, the once-booming town turned into a ghost town which has become a major attraction for visitors to Lüderitz. Other previously bustling mining settlements south of Lüderitz and in the sand sea to the north were also abandoned.   

The recovery of diamonds was limited to land-based deposits until the early 1960s when marine diamond mining began. As technology improved and onshore deposits became depleted, the share of marine diamond production has increased steadily over the years.

Debmarine, a fifty-fifty partnership between the government of Namibia and De Beers Namibia Holding Ltd, and a subsidiary of Namdeb Diamond Corporation (Pty) Ltd, is the largest producer of marine diamonds. It accounts for more than 60% of Namibia’s total diamond production. The Debmarine fleet currently consists of six vessels. An additional one, with an annual capacity of 500 000 carats, is expected to be completed in the third quarter of 2021. Production is planned for the second quarter of 2022.

Rough diamonds are cleaned, sorted into different sizes and categories and valued by the Namibia Diamond Trading Company (NDTC) in Windhoek. In terms of an agreement between the Namibian government and the De Beers group, state-owned Namib Desert Diamonds (Pty) Ltd (NAMDIA)  is entitled on behalf of the Namibian government to buy 15% of the Namdeb and Debmarine diamond production and sell to approved buyers. To ensure local beneficiation, diamonds are locally cut and polished at 13 factories.

In addition to diamonds, Namibia has been endowed with over 100 other minerals. There are 25 mines as well as several small-scale mining operations and exploration companies. Governed by the Ministry of Mines and Energy, the mining sector is regulated by legislation and guided by the Mining Charter which provides the policy objectives to ensure the sustainable contribution of minerals to Namibia’s socio-economic development. The mining industry is represented by the Chamber of Mines of Namibia which was established in 1969. The Chamber, which has 107 members, provides a variety of services.

The mining industry is the country’s largest export earner and accounts for around 56% of Namibia’s exports and around 10% to the GDP.  It is also one of the country’s major employers with 16,224 direct jobs.

Uranium is the second largest contributor to Namibia’s mining revenue. Namibia ranks among the top five uranium producers in the world. Two operational mines are owned by state-owned Chinese companies. The uranium oxide from these mines is exported mainly to China for its expanding nuclear energy programme. Another two mines are under care and maintenance, mainly as a result of the low global prices of uranium oxide. Exploration has been conducted at several other uranium deposits and more mines are expected to come into production once global uranium prices rise.

Namibia’s first gold mine, Navachab, became operational in 1989. The life of this open-pit mine has been extended to 2040. The second gold mine, B2Gold’s Otjikoto Mine, some 300 km north of Windhoek, came into production in December 2014 and commercial production has consistently exceeded targets ever since. More recent extensive exploration activities in western and central Namibia have resulted in the discovery of potentially rich ore deposits over a large area which could boost Namibia’s ranking among the gold-producing countries to the top.

More recent extensive exploration activities in western and central Namibia have resulted in the discovery of potentially rich ore deposits over a large area which could boost Namibia’s ranking among the gold-producing countries.

Namibia’s dimension stones are renowned for their variety of textures, colours and patterns. The Erongo Region is the source of high-quality marble which has been quarried from the hills surrounding the town of Karibib since 1904. High quality granite is also quarried in the Erongo Region and is in demand abroad. Marble and granite are used for kitchen counters, floor and bathroom tiles as well as the exterior finishing of buildings. Most of the production is exported as raw blocks to Asia, Europe and the United States, while smaller volumes are cut and polished at local plants. Sodalite, diorite and slate are quarried on a small scale. 

Salt is produced by evaporation of sea water at the coast. Walvis Bay Salt Holdings is the largest producer of solar sea salt in sub-Saharan Africa. The bulk of the 900,000 tonnes of salt produced annually is partly used in the chemical industry and partly exported to Nigeria, Cameroon, South Africa and Europe. The company also produces table salt for domestic use and for export to countries in southern Africa. 

Industrial minerals include fluorspar, bentonite and wollastonite. Namibia has two cement factories. The Cheetah Cement Factory near Otjiwarongo, 250 km north of the capital, has a production capacity of 1.5 million tonnes a year, while the Ohorongo manufacturing plant north of Otavi in the north has an annual capacity of 1 million tonnes.

Other important minerals include precious metals like silver, which is produced as a by-product of base metals such as zinc, lead and tin. Production of these metals, however, is from time to time constrained by fluctuating global prices. Blister copper is produced at the Dundee Precious Metals (Pty) Ltd Tsumeb smelter from copper concentrates imported from Bulgaria. The smelter is one of only a few in the world that can treat complex copper concentrates and it also produces sulphuric acid, a by-product of copper smelting. 

A variety of gemstones are found in Namibia, such as tourmaline, amethyst, aquamarine, garnet, dioptase, topaz, blue lace agate and rose quartz. These gemstones are mainly mined by small-scale mining operators working under extremely difficult conditions. The gemstones are incorporated into innovative designs by local jewellers inspired by Namibia’s spectacular landscapes, wildlife and diversity of cultures. The Namibia Mine Stones project was launched in May 2019 to promote the crafting of jewellery mined by small-scale miners in the Brandberg, Erongo and Spitzkoppe areas in the Erongo Region. 

Mining exploration has largely been aimed at base metals and minerals such as lithium, cobalt and rare earth minerals in recent years. These minerals are in demand for their use in green technologies such as rechargeable batteries of hybrid vehicles and electronic devices. 

FAST FACTS

  • Mining contributes to about 10 percent of Namibia’s (GDP) 
  • The mining industry is the country’s largest export earner and accounts for around 56% of exports 
  • It is one of the country’s major employers with 14,500 directly employed people. 
  • Richest known marine diamond deposits in the world 
  • Namibia produces approximately 2% of the world’s gem-quality diamonds 
  • Minerals mined include uranium, copper, gold, lead, tin, lithium, cadmium, zinc, salt and vanadium 
  • Diamond and uranium mining are the two largest industries 
  • One of the top five uranium producers globally 
  • Walvis Bay Salt Holdings is the largest producer of solar sea salt in sub-Saharan Africa 

MINISTRY OF MINES & ENERGY

Learn more about Namibia’s mining resources from the line ministry within government.