Mining industry body the South African Diamond Producers Organisation (Sadpo) hosted its second yearly Diggers Conference at the All Seasons Resort, in Christiana, North West province, last month.
The organisation chose Christiana because it is centrally located between the two provinces where the majority of its members are based. About 130 people, including speakers and sponsors, attended the March 14 event.
Sadpo chairperson Gert van Niekerk opened proceedings, introducing South African Diamonds and Precious Metals Regulator (SADPMR) acting CEO Xolile Mbonambi as the keynote speaker.
Mbonambi emphasised the importance of an “open door policy” between government and Sadpo’s members, as it would enable all parties to engage in meaningful discussions regarding the problems that the industry is facing. SADPMR regulatory compliance GM Cecil Khosa also addressed delegates and noted that the SADPMR had committed to engaging with Sadpo on a regular basis in future.
He noted that some of the challenges facing the diamond sector included job losses owing to a depressed economic environment and declining reserves, and the lack of assistance to historically disadvantaged South African producers.
Other presenters included Schweizer-Reneke attorney Japie van Zyl, Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) Northern Cape regional manager Pieter Swart and DMR Northern Cape acting chief inspector Harry Sease.
Van Zyl and Swart spoke on the legal implications of recent court judgments pertaining to prospecting and/or mining rights applications and permits, while Swart addressed the implications of certain legislation, specifically the National Environmental Management Act and its adverse impacts in terms of costs, and the subsequent decrease in rights and permit applications.
Sease, who spoke on behalf of both the Northern Cape and the North West minerals departments, emphasised that employers had to know their employees’ strengths and weaknesses to enable the effective use of employees’ skills and derive greater benefit from the operation.
Geologist and Sadpo national committee member Lyndon de Meillon focused on the economics of alluvial diamond mining. Some of the facts he presented were that South Africa produced about eight-million carats a year, with about 350 000 ct attributed to alluvial production. Further, despite accounting for less than half of the yearly carat production, the alluvial industry employed about 12 000 people, “roughly the same number as those employed by kimberlite mines”.
De Meillon added that the alluvial industry was a key economic segment for the region, as it was an “earner of foreign currency and offered a low-cost entry into the mining industry for juniors”. However, he noted that the industry was highly susceptible to over-regulation, lack of policy consistency and the subsequent unfriendly investor environment.
Van Niekerk closed proceedings by thanking all involved and pleaded for industrywide collaboration and cooperation when presenting issues to government. “Everyone needs to work together to ensure the survival of the industry, the small towns that it supports and, most importantly, the employment it offers. Employment in this industry has drastically decreased [over] the past 17 years and everyone needs to work together to turn this trend around.”