With four years of its lifespan left, Namdeb, which runs the land based diamond mining operations around Oranjemund, has announced a voluntary retrenchment exercise for at least 130 of its 1,700 workforce.
This means workers can choose to take up the package and leave the company, which has been one of Namibia’s economic pillars for over 100 years.
Shavuka Mbidhi, chairperson of the Mineworkers Union of Namibia Oranjemund branch said Namdeb had given letters of voluntary separation to some of its members.
He said the company is expecting at least 130 workers, especially those near retirement to take up the offer.
Namdeb Chief Executive Officer, Riaan Burger, could not comment as he was still on holiday.
In a statement issued on Wednesday, the diamond mining company said the future business requirements such as the planned production increase in 2018 will require Namdeb to rebalance its labour workforce as well as align to strategic requirements over the next few years.
“Therefore the business optimisation process includes options to all employees to apply for early retirement and voluntary separation,” Namdeb’s Corporate Affairs Manager, Pauline Thomas, said.
“This has been received with mixed feelings. The morale of the workers is already low since they have been told that the company will close in 2022,” Mbidhi said.
He said the younger workers may take the voluntary separation and look for employment elsewhere in the mining industry.
“Nobody will be forced to take the offer; it’s like a resignation.”
Oranjemund, which used to be a restricted town with visitors requiring police clearance, has since last year opened to the public ‑ a clear sign that diamonds have been depleted.
Namdeb has also called for an expression of interest for investors to run its hospital and school in the town.
Mbidhi, however, said it may not be all doom and gloom as the union has information that Namdeb may start mining in shallow waters of the Atlantic Ocean, a role currently exercised by Debmarine, which already mines in deep waters.
“The company is exploring for diamonds. But the outcome on whether the life of the mine will be extended will only be known after 2022,” Mbidhi said.
He said the announcement that mining will cease in 2022 had dampened the hopes of investors who were hoping to invest in Oranjemund, when it was opened up to the public.
“Namdeb is the lifeline of Oranjemund, without Namdeb there is no life. Investors flocked to the town after it was said that it will be opened to the general public, but after the announcement that operations will cease in 2022, investors may have lost interest to invest in the mine.”
De Beers, which is a joint venture in both Namdeb and Debmarine ‑ the sea-based operations, has in recent years been shifting focus to marine-based diamonds found on the Atlantic Ocean seabed.
In 2005, diamond production from marine resources overtook land production for the first time with the production of 922,000 carats.
The following year, Debmarine Namibia achieved the one-million carats record production.
In 2016, De Beers’ production in Namibia reached 1.57 million carats, the majority being marine diamonds while 403,000 carats were from land-based mining. The current mining licence for Debmarine Namibia in the Atlantic Ocean expires in 2035.
Namdeb last year said Elizabeth Bay Mine will be closed at the end of 2018, Daberas at the end of 2019, Sendelingsdrift in 2020 and the main one, Southern Coastal in 2022.
In June last year, Debmarine launched a new vessel mv SS Nujoma that was built at a cost of US$157 million. The vessel is a deepwater diamond exploration and sampling vessel. The vessel was constructed in Norway by the Kleven Verft shipbuilding group.