AN old adage that says; “Diamonds are a woman’s best friend,” rings true for Barbara Chenai Mutambanengwe, who finds herself surrounded by the precious stones daily.
She literally dreams, sleeps and works around diamonds and that should be expected from a woman who owns one of the two diamond cleaning companies in Zimbabwe, Ke Nako Enterprises.
The company will be officially launched early next month, almost six months after it started operating.
“I did not just stumble on this business, but I have been building my life and working around the diamond industry. You can imagine my excitement and commitment to be part of this growing industry,” she revealed in an interview recently.
Although Mutambanengwe hardly adorns any of the precious stones as part of her jewellery, she has endeared herself with diamonds, which has become a source of livelihood and fulfilment of a long cherished dream.
Ke Nako Enterprises, founded from scratch but driven with an urge and passion to partake in the diamond industry, has been operational for less than a year.
The company, whose facilities are based at the Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe premises in Msasa, currently employs 12 people. Most of the employees are youths, fresh from school.
“Long before huge deposits of diamonds had been found in Marange, I had developed an interest in the industry while living in Botswana in the mid 1990s,” she said.
Her mentor, a Tswana friend, taught her so much about diamonds that she resolved to venture into the industry once an opportunity arose.
“My mentor who worked for Debswana knew we had diamonds in Zimbabwe, so he would encourage me to gather as much information as possible on the resource.
“He once highlighted to me that the reason why diamonds from Zimbabwe were not fetching much on the international market had nothing to do with their quality, but it was because they were not being cleaned,” she said.
Mutambanengwe resolved to play her part in propping up the minerals when she returned to Zimbabwe around 2007 immersing herself in extensive research on diamonds. This was soon after the Marange diamond rush gripped the whole nation, particularly in Manicaland – coincidentally her home area – as people jostled for opportunities and mining claims.
When other entrepreneurs were going around offices to obtain prospecting licences, Mutambanengwe registered a company mandated with the cleaning and processing of diamonds.
“I was looking at the bigger picture. With the information I had gathered about value addition, I realised I could still play a part in the industry,” she recalled.
However, faced challenges in her bid to acquire a licence.
“It was so frustrating being turned away, after gathering what I thought were necessary documents. But I had to soldier on,” narrated Mutambanengwe.
Her breakthrough came in 2013, when her submissions to the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development were finally approved.
It was a turning point for Mutambanengwe, who had almost lost hope of attaining her dream. Even prospective financiers and partners had long abandoned her after realising that bureaucratic bungling was taking its toll on this ambitious project.
With the little resources she had, Mutambanengwe purchased a diamond cleaning machine from India.
By the beginning of 2015, Ke Nako had finalised all the groundwork and was preparing for its first trial run.
However, like any project in its infancy, Ke Nako Enterprises faced a number of challenges that threatened to derail it.
“At one time, we ordered part of our machinery and we had to wait for a longer period than what was stipulated in the catalogue. When we tried to enquire, we were told that the equipment had long been delivered,” she said
After setting up its equipment in August, Ke Nako carried out its first trial run with Marange Resources the following month, which was a success.
“We were pleasantly surprised with the outcome. The future looks bright and I believe as the Government moves towards consolidating diamond operations, our business will go to the next level,” she said.
Ms Mutambanengwe said they have capacity to clean 1,2 million carats per month but they were currently only using about one percent of that capacity as they were only cleaning diamonds for Marange Resources, which recently confirmed the good work that the company has been doing.
Her immediate plans are to train youths in diamond processing, an area which she says is abundant with opportunities.
“We are cognisant of the need to empower youths in this country so we have engaged youths from disadvantaged backgrounds and are training them. Our hope is to gradually increase our numbers as our volumes increase. Our thrust is to create all-rounders so all our staff are trained in the core aspects of the business despite the fact that they will be doing different tasks.”
Mutambanengwe urged women to venture into the diamond industry, which she says was brimming with opportunities.
“Women should try their hand in the sector which offers opportunities from mining right up to value addition.
“It might appear as if the sector is male dominated, but women have as much opportunities as men to create their own space, especially in the value addition chain,” said the mother of three boys.