JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – A new underground mine is to be built beneath De Beers’ currently operating openpit Venetia mine, South Africa’s largest diamond mine, located in South Africa’s northerly Limpopo province.
The Anglo American-controlled De Beers announced late on Thursday that the group would be investing R20-billion ($2-billion) in the expansion, which would extend Venetia’s life to 2042 and replace the openpit as South Africa’s largest diamond mine.
“Our investment in Venetia enables us to provide greater certainty around long-term supply for our sightholders, particularly those with manufacturing operations in South Africa,” said De Beers CEO Philippe Mellier.
The company said that all regulatory clearances had been received from the South African government.
The development and build phase of the underground mine was expected to create 1 000 jobs over nine years while openpit mining operations continued.
Underground operations would begin production in 2021, yielding 96-million carats during the life of the mine, and securing more than 3 000 jobs.
The project would employ semiskilled and skilled workers, drawn primarily from the region and trained for the project.
The technical upskilling would enhance South Africa’s overall technical skills resource base, the company said.
The bulk of equipment and services would be sourced in South Africa.
Mellier commented that the new underground mine would provide a large and predictable supply of rough diamonds for decades to come to De Beers’ sightholders, who had significant investments in South Africa’s diamond-cutting industry.
He said that De Beers was celebrating its 125th anniversary this year and that from its founding in Kimberley in 1888 to the current Venetia announcement, South Africa had always been the ancestral heart of the company.
The Venetia announcement meant that De Beers would remain South Africa’s leading diamond company until at least its 150th anniversary.
De Beers Consolidated Mines (DBCM) chairperson Barend Petersen described the capital investment as another concrete example of DBCM’s commitment to the South African mining industry, an industry on which the South African economy had been built following the discovery of diamonds in 1866.
Almost 150 years later, the country was a diverse economy with mining still an integral part of its aspiration to build a more prosperous and equitable country, Petersen added.
DBCM CEO Phillip Barton said that the underground mine’s project team had been assessing the safest and most economic options to extend operations, and unlock the extensive ore reserves beneath the openpit.
Venetia Underground would be ready to begin producing South African diamonds by 2021, Barton assured.
The boards of De Beers and Anglo American had approved the project in 2012 after environmental authorisation had been granted in July of that year.
The Department of Mineral Resources approved the environmental management plan in October and the final outstanding regulatory clearances were obtained earlier this month.
Anglo American plc owns 85% of De Beers with the remaining 15% held by the Republic of Botswana.
In South Africa, De Beers operates through DBCM, a 74/26 black economic-empowerment (BEE) partnership with Ponahalo Holdings.
DBCM, which manages Venetia, Voorspoed and the Kimberley tailings dumps, is in the process of selling Namaqualand Mines and the Rooipoort mining right to consortiums with strong BEE credentials.