At the beginning of September 2019, De Beers Group welcomed 25 members of the Young Diamantaires in the South African province Limpopo. Most participants were meeting one another for the first time and had previously only spoken via Whatsapp and conference calls. It was a diverse group (consisting of diamond traders, jewelers, … but also social media influencers, a specialist in artisan diamond mining and even an entrepreneur who opened a gemstone museum) with participants from 10 major diamond centers: Australia, Belgium, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Israel, Singapore, United Kingdom, Zimbabwe, and South Africa.
A Visit To The Venetia Mine, An Example Of Modern & Sustainable Mining
De Beers provided an extensive program, with the highlight being a visit to the Venetia mine, which accounts for 40 % of the annual diamond production in South Africa and therefore is the country’s main diamond producer. Venetia is an open-pit mine that officially opened on August 14, 1992 after a sampling program. The mine has an area of 3.8 hectares and is 450 meters deep.
The open-pit diamond mining at the Venetia mine is expected to continue until 2021, but preparations are already underway to transform the open pit into an underground mine. The new underground mine is expected to extend the life of the Venetia mine to 2046. At a cost of 2 billion USD, it is the most expensive investment in South Africa from both De Beers and Anglo American. The vertical production shaft (which is used to remove kimberlite and waste rock) is scheduled to become operational in early 2022, the services shaft (used for workers and equipment) in early 2023. Both shafts have a diameter of 7 meters and were already at a depth of more than 1000 meters on the day of our visit.
The Young Diamantaires Witnessed
The Young Diamantaires delegation visited on September 4, 2019 the open-pit mine as well as the underground project after attending an extensive safety briefing. The health and safety of employees and visitors happen to be top-of-the-list at De Beers: “zero harm” is their ultimate goal. After all, no diamond is worth a human life or injury.
During the tour, we had the opportunity to meet mine-workers (and take a picture with them, see below the result). Some mining engineers provided the group with information on cutting-edge mining techniques. What we found even more interesting than the operational details, was that we could experience how modern mining companies are responsibly for dealing with humans, animals, and the environment.
The Positive Social-Economic Impact
The site of the Venetia mine can be located in the north of South Africa in the Limpopo province, an area where a large part of the population lives below the poverty line. The Venetia mine, however, provides a significant improvement on the socio-economic level. The mine delivers 4365 direct jobs, which are largely filled by the locals. Women are actively encouraged to take on both management and technical positions (during our visit we even saw a lady driving a mine truck).
In addition, De Beers is also involved in numerous social projects. The Young Diamantaires visited the Renaissance Secondary School in Musina, one of the 19 schools that were built in South Africa with support from De Beers (as part of the School Infrastructure Development Program).
The group also met some local entrepreneurs, that receive assistance to set up or expand their businesses through the Zimele program. “Zimele” literally means “standing on your own feet” and is the socio-economic development program of De Beers that supports SMEs through sponsorship and mentorship and therefore creates more jobs.
Diamond, A Product From Nature With A Heart For Nature
Today’s mining companies avoid areas that have important value in terms of biodiversity. They are trying to reduce negative impacts on the ecosystem. For example, the rare baobab tree grows in the Limpopo area. If a tree needs to be removed for the mine, De Beers saves the tree by uprooting and replanting it. Since the mining area is also quite dry, De Beers are careful with water usage. About one-third of the used water is purified and reused.
Modern diamond producers are setting the bar even higher than the mere limitation of negative impacts: they make an active contribution to the preservation of biodiversity in the region. Despite their geological agenda, De Beers advocated for the foundation of a National Park in the region of the Venetia mine. The landscape of Mapungubwe, that is a stone’s throw from the mine, was proclaimed as National Park in 1992. In 2003, the archaeological location in the area was recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Frank Auger, Beneficiation Manager at De Beers, took the YD group to explore the area during a game drive and walk.
In this context, it is also worth mentioning the “Moving Giants” project. De Beers helps moving elephants from the Venetia Limpopo Nature Reserve (where the ecosystem was under pressure due to too many elephants) to Mozambique (where the elephant population needs to be restored).
A Positive Message, Brought By A Positive Team
In the last years, the diamond sector in general and the diamond mining industry in particular, have been negative in the news and are suffering from a negative perception. The truth that natural diamonds do so much good for the local communities and ecosystems is shared too little. And this certainly in a time where consumers attach so much importance to “ethical consumption”.
The Young Diamantaires are ready for a worldwide conversation about these positive effects of natural diamonds. We will use social media to help spread the word and hope that the cumulative effect of the stories will help change the narrative in a positive direction. One thing is for sure: this trip with the Young Diamantaires made me convinced that we have the power of a positive team.