Diamond symposium to focus on solutions, not problems

5th June 2023 By: Darren Parker - Creamer Media Contributing Editor Online

Diamond symposium to focus on solutions, not problems

Sadpo  vice chairperson Lyndon de Meillon

Despite a plethora of significant local and international challenges facing the South African diamond industry, the 2023 Kimberley International Diamond Symposium (KIDS) will focus on finding ways of planning for the future and finding solutions together, rather than fixating on the many negatives.

The symposium, which is presented by the South African Diamond Producers Organisation (Sadpo) in collaboration with the Geological Society of South Africa (GSSA), will take place from August 24 to 25 at the Horseshoe Inn and Convention Centre in Kimberley.

“The conference comes at a time where there's a lot of uncertainty in the international diamond industry,” Sadpo vice chairperson Lyndon de Meillon tells Mining Weekly.

In terms of international pressures, he points out that the US economy seems to be heading for a significant slowdown, with high inflation, high interest rates and geopolitical tension.

Additionally, the war in Ukraine remains a drain on the global economy in general, while China’s economy is not recovering as fast or as well as hoped.

De Meillon says the unfavourable economic conditions globally are contributing to greater demand for artificially made diamonds, placing added pressure on the natural diamond market.

“In difficult economic times, it becomes more and more attractive to look at lab-grown diamonds. You can buy a maybe 1 ct diamond for half the price or less than the natural diamond equivalent. When the economy turns bad and people struggle, they look at the cheaper options,” he explains.

Locally, the challenges are no less severe.

“The South African government's inability to manage the mineral resources of South Africa to anyone's benefit is now the biggest threat to the junior mining sector in general and very specifically to the junior diamond mining sector,” De Meillon asserts, citing corruption, the exodus of skilled personnel and the appointment of inexperienced or unskilled personnel as things that have “paralysed” the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE).

He points to the persistent, large backlog of mining and prospecting rights throughout the country, as well as the significant delays in the issuing of water rights.

“The issuing of water rights is so far behind that many prospecting rights have expired before water rights can be issued,” he says.

However, possibly the biggest hindrance to the development and success of the local diamond mining industry, in De Meillon’s view, is the cost of compliance with the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act and the National Environmental Management Act that have been imposed on the industry since 2002 and 1998, respectively.

“We can't comply with all the regulations. It's not economical, and it's not practical and the industry cannot cope,” he says.

In a report titled ‘Status of the South African small and junior diamond mining sector’, published in 2021 by African Earth Observatory Network and Nelson Mandela University, it was shown that the small and junior diamond mining industry shrank from about 2 000 companies in 2004 to about only 220 in 2020, going from 25 000 employees to only 5 720.

These figures have likely dropped even further since.

“All of these things are having an impact on the market and present challenges that we have to look at during the symposium to see how we're going to deal with them in the future,” De Meillon says.

This year’s KIDS – the first since 2014 – will focus on research and new technologies being applied across all facets of the industry, diamond exploration and mining, including alluvial diamonds. New findings relating to kimberlite exploration will also be presented. 

Moreover, technological developments relating to diamond processing, recoveries and security, particularly of large, high-value diamonds and exceptional diamonds, which are key considerations in the mining and recovery process given the generally high value of the product, will also be addressed.

The KIDS will be a combined conference and trade show, and is intended to be an event where the diamond industry can bring its general suppliers, developers, manufacturers of technical equipment and manufacturers of yellow fleet, together with small, medium-sized and large-scale diamond producers.

Simultaneously, the organisers also hope to encourage universities and students to present their latest research on alluvial diamond deposits and kimberlites.

“We really strive to address the burning issues in the diamond industry, both locally and internationally, by inviting relevant experts in the field to not only share their views but also participate in panel discussions on these issues,” De Meillon says.

The symposium will kick off on the first day with a keynote address by renowned diamond industry analyst Paul Zimnisky, who will be visiting South Africa and Botswana to attend the conference, visit some diamond mines, and examine the South African diamond production industry that is currently facing legislative challenges.

Later on the first day, Zimnisky will also participate in a panel discussion on the future of the local and international diamond industry over the next 10 to 20 years.

The first day's afternoon session will be initiated by another keynote address by De Beers executive chairperson Barend Petersen.

The second day will start off with a keynote address by Indian diamond researcher Hero Kalra, focusing on the Kohinoor and other Golconda diamonds, among other exceptional Indian diamonds.

The afternoon panel discussion will tackle the examination of the recently released artisanal and small-scale mining policy document and its application to the diamond mining industry in South Africa.

The keynote address that same afternoon will be delivered by University of Cape Town (UCT) igneous petrologist and economic geologist Geoffrey Howarth, focusing on diamond textural relationships in situ with their host rocks using computerised tomography scanning of their xenoliths. This will herald in more technical talks by students and researchers from UCT.

Throughout both days, there will be numerous relevant presentations on legislative issues, the use of technology in diamond mining and a closer look at exceptional diamonds worldwide, as well as the latest updates on noteworthy deposits that have recently made headlines, De Meillon says.

Parallel to the presentations and discussions, a trade show will also be held in a large exhibition area, where manufacturers can showcase their latest equipment.

“Ample time will be allocated for interaction between delegates and manufacturers. Several manufacturers have already taken advantage of the diamond sponsorship opportunity to promote their equipment. Additionally, there will be smaller cubicles and advertising space available for new suppliers,” De Meillon says.

He notes that the organisers have received significant interest in the trade show, with several manufacturers already securing diamond sponsorships to promote their equipment.

Recognizing the importance of networking, De Meillon says that there are three evening functions planned for delegates. The symposium will launch with a welcoming function on the evening of August 23 at the Kimberley Club, followed by a cocktail evening on August 24. Thereafter, the renowned “Diggers Braai” will be held on August 25.

Moreover, two field trips are scheduled for August 26: one to the Wesselton mine and dumps, and another to explore an alluvial diamond mine along the Middle Orange River.

For more information about the symposium, including registration and programme details, interested parties should visit the Sadpo and GSSA websites.