Namibia is known for many things around the world. There are the beautiful vistas, it’s the country where the desert meets the ocean, abundant wildlife, and of course diamonds. The story goes that diamonds used to be so plentiful you could just walk around certain parts of Namibia and pick them up out of the sand. That story might need to be taken with a pinch of salt. However, it does touch on something that Namibia should be known for. Apart from diamonds, the abundance of natural resources is truly a blessing, with the precious stones only being one of the many natural resources that Namibia’s land and sea holds. This makes mining in all its forms an exceedingly important part of the country’s GDP.
The Land of the Brave produces diamonds, uranium, copper, magnesium, zinc, silver, gold, lead, semi-precious stones and industrial minerals all mined in one way or another across the country, at the coast and out at sea. Mining contributes 25% of the country’s income, and is the largest contributor to the Namibian economy. Diamond and uranium mining are by far the two most vital industries. It is quite evident that mining is big business, and employs thousands of people. In fact, around 100,000 people rely directly or indirectly on mining for their livelihoods.
For decades, people from various parts of the world would come to Namibia to buy raw gemstones and mineral specimens, with raw gemstones leaving the country and the value- addition taking place elsewhere. So, the designing, polishing, cutting and fashioning into wearable jewellery happens abroad. This means the stones are bought for much lower prices, and often come back at a higher cost. To counter this, Mine Stones was created to ensure value-addition takes place in the country rather than abroad. This is a brand that ensures that the participating miners, lapidarists and jewellers can all benefit together. The small-scale miners benefit from this; Namibia does not only have large mining conglomerates active in the country.
There is another level of mining as well, though. It’s not only huge trucks, diggers, machinery and big international companies that mine in Namibia. Fully-licensed businesses and more established miners or businesspeople who have groups of miners working for them are present. There’s a small but dedicated group of independent miners who mine semi-precious stones and minerals across Namibia, often working with nothing more than a pickaxe, their hands and total dedication. These miners are often overlooked, and certainly cannot compete with the large companies that have equipment, engineers and surveyors at their disposal. However, these men and women who toil the land around Brandberg and Spitzkoppe are to be admired, stimulated and supported.
The people involved in this small-scale mining in regions such as Erongo do not dream of finding a whopper of a diamond that will allow them to retire. What they dream of is to put food on the table for their families through their hard work, and create generational wealth. Therefore, Mine Stones ensures that value-addition takes place in Namibia, and supports the miners with market access for their mined semi-precious stones and minerals. The company is supported by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), through the Ministry of Industrialisation and Trade (MIT) and the Promotion of Business Advisory and Economic Transformation Services (ProBATS) programme under German-Namibian Development Cooperation.
The local value-addition process entails buying semi-precious stones that are ethically sourced and mined locally at a fair market price. They are then used by local craftsmen and women who make them into uniquely Namibian jewellery pieces to be sold locally and internationally. This ensures that the whole supply chain is wholly and naturally Namibian. Creating the market for these brilliant and unique pieces means that hardworking miners can support their families and keep generational traditions, including mining practices, alive and kicking. This allows the people to enjoy the precious treasures that the Namibian land offers.
So, although large-scale mining is vital from a socio-economic point of view in Namibia, the small-scale mining and subsequent value-addition that the local designers and crafts people bring to the stones and minerals means that communities can remain self-sufficient and empowered. If the Namibian economy is to bounce back in 2021 and beyond, it needs to help and engage at every level of the manufacturing, production, resources extraction as well as service industry. A company such as Mine Stones is an essential link in this small-scale mining ecosystem’s chain, and ProBATS’ assistance allows the ecosystem to evolve, develop and thrive. Our economy can rebound and be resilient, but it may need a helping hand. It starts from the bottom, and with individuals looking after their families eking out a living in mining, for example.
*Lianah Bock is the Manager of the Mine Stones Brand.