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Operation Botswana How the richest diamond mine in the world navigated COVID-19

17 Mar 2022

Jwaneng Diamond Mine is located in southern Botswana in the Naledi River Valley of the Kalahari Desert. Officially opened in 1982, the Jwaneng Mine is the richest diamond mine in the world by value, producing high-quality diamonds at an annual average in excess of 12 million carats. The mine contributes significantly to the economy of Botswana. This contribution is made in a safe and sustainable manner with people at the center of the business model.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, before Botswana had its first case, Jwaneng Mine developed a strategy dubbed “Operation Save Botswana” with a mandate to test, track and contain the virus to protect the mine’s employees and nearby communities in the town of Jwaneng. By January 2022, this breakthrough strategy led all employees and members of the surrounding community to receive their first vaccination dose, according to Koolatotse Koolatotse, the mine’s general manager.

Over and above this, the mine safety programme has delivered a benchmark Total Recordable Injury Frequency rate of 0.09, making it one of the safest mines in the world. This program has received a Gold Quill Award from the International Association of Business Communicators for its safety campaign. 

On the production side, the processing plants, the Jwaneng Modular Plant garnered Gold for the second time in a row in the Anglo Productivity and Efficiency Competition, dubbed P101. This performance is entrenched in the Jwaneng operation such that the Recrush Plant followed with a Silver. Jwaneng Mine is committed to empowering the community and the nation at large. 

To this end, the mine has tripled its citizen spend, contributing to employment creation. The breakthrough leadership of the Jwaneng Mine Executive Committee resulted in lower unit costs and high efficiency, which mitigated the impacts of COVID-19 on the business. 

The operation is deliberate about life beyond diamonds, purposely progressing its mine closure performance with the view of zero liability by end of mine life. The team delivering these extraordinary achievements is led by Koolatotse, whose personal philosophy is bringing the best out of people. 

Driving these changes required a critical mindset shift, according to performance consulting firm Gap International’s Chief Leadership Officer Mitzie Almquist and Vice President Henry Fischer, who trained Koolatotse and other managers at the Jwaneng Mine.

In this Q&A, they share more about how the right leadership created these changes.

How did Koolatotse steer the business through the COVID-19 crisis, at a time when so many were scrambling to marshal resources?

Mitzie Almquist: Accountability. He held himself and the mine accountable for the success of the business, the town and the country. He holds people accountable and takes care of them, so everyone wants to work there. Where people may be fighting for resources, he’s not. He has an intense focus on the psychological and the physical safety of everyone, which is at the heart of production and delivery.

Henry Fischer: He turned the mirror on himself first. He has been clear from the outset that it all starts with him and his ownership. Anytime there is an issue, he always looks first at himself. It’s part of how he leads. When he does that, he gets the freedom and permission to say really big things and make them happen.

Mitzie: How has the success of that COVID-19 response shaped Koolatotse as a leader?

Almquist: He has grown from being a general manager of the Jwaneng Mine to being a leader of Botswana. His purpose is all about freedom. He is about women being free to be anything they want to be, he’s about people and families being free, he’s about the freedom to have success. So he gave himself permission to own the state of the town, the community, the country.

Fischer: I go back to his confidence in being able to say big things and produce big things. He got confident that he could say things and make them happen. And he says it with no hesitation … and then they happen.

Mitzie: How has Koolatotse pushed through ideas that have changed operations?

Fischer: He knew he couldn’t do it by himself. So he started creating mini versions of himself in his organisation. He started with his leadership team and then worked down to every leader in the mine—226 leaders whom he trained to say big things with confidence. As a result, in virtually every section of the mine, there was a leader in place who was taking his big intentions and making them real.

Almquist: That gave Koolatotse’s name and reputation a certain level of credibility. So when he met with the managing director of Debswana or the CEO of Anglo American, he could look them in the eye and tell them that the changes he was going to make would be successful. And they thought he was crazy. But he kept going back to them and explaining, showing them how it was going to be successful, and then he did it.

Mitzie: Safety is at the heart of any mining operation. How did Koolatotse establish higher safety protocols in the Jwaneng Mine?

Fischer: He fully understood the criticality of his leaders’ safety mindset. So he led conversations where he put all the reasons why accidents would happen on the table. And they stared those circumstances right in the face. They confronted, “There they are, look at that.” It was a decision point for them once they saw them. Either they were going to keep leading conversations that accidents could happen, or they were going to take a big stand: Not on my watch. They took a powerful stand: When you enter Jwaneng, you are home, you are family.

Almquist: He demanded that his executive leadership examine and reexamine every critical control in the mine. So that when they thought they had everything in its right place for safety, they examined it again. Because he knew that inertia is inevitable. By that, I mean that doing the same routine day after day leads to complacency. As a result of his disciplined approach, Jwaneng is considered the safest mine in the world.

Mitzie: What has been the impact of Koolatotse and his leadership on you?

Fischer: Safety is something that has been near and dear to my heart for as long as I can remember. And having the opportunity to make that difference along with Koolatotse has had a big impact on me. I feel the most fulfilled I have ever felt as a leader knowing that people will go home to their families every day safe, and that I had something to do with that. And that’s as good as it gets for me.

Almquist: He has deepened my belief in people and the goodness of people in the world. He has validated my belief in the power of leadership and what is possible. He is a bigger-than-life example of what I have stood for for many years. It has been incredibly rewarding to partner with a leader to impact a culture, performance and community.


This story by Gap International’s BRANDVOICE first appeared in Forbes Magazine of March 16, 2022.

Source : Gap International

Author : Gap International

Location : GABORONE

Event : preview

Date : 17 Mar 2022