The following is a De Beers press release commemorating and celebrating the life, career and achievements of a great geologist, a man who through passion, perseverance and hard work decisively contributed to transforming the poor economy of a rural African country into an affluent modern economy based on diamond mining.

 

D.O.

 

 

BOTSWANA DIAMOND DISCOVERER, DR GAVIN LAMONT, DIES

DR GAVIN THOMAS LAMONT (3rd November 1920 to 19th April 2008)

Johannesburg, Monday 21 April 2008 - Dr Gavin Lamont, the geologist who led the decade long search for the diamond mines of Botswana, died this weekend in Somerset West. His leadership, tenacity and deep knowledge of geology and of nature contributed to the discovery of the Orapa and Letlhakane diamond mines in 1967 and of the worlds richest mine, Jwaneng, in March 1971. These discoveries, together with the prudent management by the government of Botswana of the diamond wealth that flowed from the partnership with De Beers, set the foundation for the economic success of the country and its leading role today in the modern diamond industry.

Lamont was born in Kimberley on 3rd November 1920, and was educated at Rondebosch Boys’ High School. In 1938 he commenced his studies at the University of Cape Town (UCT). He broke his studies to volunteer for war service in 1939. During the war he distinguished himself in the Special Service Battalion, the long-range Allied desert group operating behind the German lines, until being invalided-out and sent back to UCT to complete his B.Sc. degree, which he did in 1941. From 1942 to 1943 he worked for AECI as a plant superintendent in the cordite plant at Modderfontein Dynamite Factory before furthering his studies at UCT for a M.Sc. degree in geology, received in 1945, and a PhD in 1947. It was at UCT where he met and became friendly with Dr Louis Murray who, on becoming Consulting Geologist to De Beers in the mid-1960’s, supported and encouraged Dr Lamont’s then ground breaking work in Botswana, leading to the discoveries of the Orapa and Letlhakane diamond mines and, soon afterwards, Jwaneng.

These diamond discoveries, which brought about the transformation of Botswana from a mainly cattle-based economy into, today, the biggest and most influential nation in the worldwide diamond industry, did not come about smoothly. They came though the remarkable combination of perseverance, innovative and contrarian thinking and team-building that were the outstanding characteristics of Dr Lamont, or “Doc” as all his staff knew him, and of his allembracing scientific passion for the geomorphology, botany, zoology, history and archaeology of the areas in which he worked.

“Doc” had started working in Botswana as a member of the then Bechuanaland Protectorate Department of Geological Survey in 1949.

In 1955 he joined Anglo American Corporation, and was seconded to De Beers to conduct diamond prospecting in the Botswana Tuli Block, along the country’s eastern border. The river drainage soil sampling results were thin, and with difficulty he persuaded the company to let him look further to the West and North, on the premise that continental crust upwarping could have interrupted the drainage system, and where the weak drainage and extensive thick sand and other Kalahari sediment cover had led others to believe that any economically-worthwhile mineralisation would have been sealed off and made inaccessible.

He pioneered and evolved a series of systematic indicator mineral exploration techniques suited to work in the Kalahari, and despite the initial lack of success he persevered with them. He was a firm believer that mines were to be found not by spending time in town or office, but by “boots on the ground”, and careful observation.

In early 1967 the first kimberlites in the Orapa –Letlhakane province in North-Western Botswana were discovered, initially by means of rapid systematic reconnaissance soil sampling in areas with thinner Kalahari cover, with the Orapa mine, the biggest, being identified in April that year. Orapa is the second-biggest mined diamond pipe in the world.

In the South of the country, on ground previously relinquished under the exacting conditions of tenure of State Grants and later re-awarded to De Beers, Dr Lamont came to postulate that bioturbation, the action by burrowing animals and particularly termites, during past warmer and wetter climatic periods could have brought to the surface kimberlite indicator minerals like ilmenite and garnet from pipes concealed by the sand. Towards the end of 1969, from soil samples taken over 150 square miles, the garnet and ilmenite anomalies associated with the Jwaneng pipe to the West of Lobatse were identified, and the process began of defining its position under some 60 metres of sand cover, and of adapting the relatively primitive drillingequipment of the day to ascertain the presence of diamonds and the possible grade. Through the innovative and pragmatic use of wider-diameter jumper-drill bits the extraordinary potential of Jwaneng was rapidly established; today it is the richest diamond mine in the world. The modern geophysical and computer technologies of today were not available to “Doc” and his team, but their exploration successes are yet to be surpassed.

“Doc” was an outstanding mentor and professional guide to his fellow-workers in the field, and after sometimes initial mixed feelings about his style of management he became a firm friend to many of them. Yet he was at core a private man, self-effacing, of spare frame and almost austere. In writing about the discoveries at Orapa and Jwaneng, he was careful to record the contributions of those who worked with him; Manfred Marx, Jim Gibson, “Brot” Kemang Malema and his brother Eleven and their cousin, Windvoel, Keith Huxham and Guy Lamont, Mike Whately, Bruce Lynn, Peter Bickerstaff, Stuart Vercoe, Norman Lock and Tony Robertson to name only a few. Lamont had a great affinity with the people of Botswana, and in September 1977, in recognition of his contribution to the nation he was awarded the Presidential Order of Honour by President Sir Seretse Khama.

He had accompanied Sir Seretse and Lady Khama, together with Harry Oppenheimer and Barry Hawthorne, on a first aerial overview of the Orapa pipe shortly after its discovery.

Orapa was the first diamond mine to be found after eleven long years of perseverance on the ground and in what was then revolutionary thinking.

In 1980, after 25 years of service in Botswana, Lamont retired to Somerset West in the Cape, where he settled into retirement with his wife Toni whom he married in 1949. She passed away in 1982. Gavin died peacefully in Somerset West on 19th April 2008, after a long battle with cancer. His son, Guy and step daughter Rosemarie both predeceased him. He is survived by Winnie his second wife of 25 years.