Tag Archives: De Beers

SAFETY MILESTONE FOR VENETIA FROM BOLD NEW APPROACH

At the end of December 2023, De Beers’ Venetia Mine near Musina celebrated reaching 10,2 million Fatality Free shifts, a remarkable achievement as it transitions from open pit to underground operations.

The challenging journey to date has included reskilling the company’s open pit employees for underground operations, while coordinating the many contractors working to implement the ambitious Venetia Underground Project (VUP). Gavin Anderson, Senior Manager for Safety and Sustainable Development at Venetia, says the vision of ‘Pioneering a Brilliant Future for Venetia Mine’ needed a bold and innovative approach to safety. 

This challenging task was underpinned by a very comprehensive risk management programme – but there was a difference: instead of focusing on safety risk, the decision was made to take everyone on a personal journey towards safely creating one Venetia Mine.

“We developed our own holistic approach to operational risk management,” he says. “Rather than focusing purely on safety or on occupational health and hygiene, we have worked on giving employees a psychologically safe workplace in which to operate.” 

He explains that ‘psychological safety’ is a concept that moves away from a focus on management, and towards a new appreciation of leadership. Where leaders demonstrate care for their employees, he argues, then companies can drive safe production. 

“Traditionally, a manager would pursue safety compliance through checking that certain standards and procedures were in place,” says Anderson. “A psychologically safe workplace, however, is where employees feel free to speak up when they believe a procedure or risk assessment is not adding the necessary value to their safety efforts.”

From this foundation, employees can engage directly with leadership and there can be collaborative efforts to design and apply safety improvements. He notes that, once the right environment is created, more effective safety interventions and tools can be applied. One such initiative at Venetia is the Safety Sentry, in which each team elects a sentry to capture and communicate the safety observations of his colleagues during that shift. 

Using a tablet to record images, conversations or videos underground, the Safety Sentry is able to highlight areas where improvements can be made at the workface. Leveraging digital communication technology, this data is uploaded to a manager who can view, assess and take forward the observations or suggestions – both with the team and senior management. 

Another important avenue for Venetia’s safety approach is to remind employees of their families’ love for and reliance on them. A recent campaign asked employees’ family members to send video clips urging them to come home safely from work to enjoy the Christmas season – with these personal messages being played on screens in the workplace. 

“Focusing on the human component has given Venetia Mine the edge in terms of shifting safety practices,” concludes Anderson. 

DE BEERS NURTURES SMALL BUSINESSES IN REACHING DIAMOND DREAMS

Forging transformation in the diamond sector through nurturing carefully selected small businesses, De Beers takes a hands-on approach that adapts to past experience. 

This has led the company to extend its support beyond the cutting and polishing segments, and into manufacturing and jewellery, according to De Beers Beneficiation Manager Kagiso Fredericks. The first cohort of De Beers Beneficiation Programme, which graduated in 2019, took five cutting and polishing SMMEs through an intensive three years of incubation, training and mentoring. 

As a leading supplier of rough and polished diamonds, De Beers established the Beneficiation Programme on the basis of its key role at the beginning of the diamond value chain, he explains. However, Fredericks emphasises that the cutting and polishing of rough diamonds is only one next step in a longer journey to the end-customer.

“When we consider the scope for beneficiation, our focus is really on value addition – so the programme could cover design, manufacturing and all the other phases through to retail,” he says. “Our 2020 cohort therefore included a jewellery manufacturing and refinery business and also jewellery designers and retailers.”

An essential aspect of this programme, he says, is to encourage participants to sharpen their vision and value proposition – to differentiate themselves in the marketplace and clarify exactly what business they are in. This has led to exciting results during the three year incubation period. A refining business in the programme, for instance, explored ways of adding value to its business model.

“As a refiner, you are limited considerably by the market price of the commodities you refine,” he explains. “This business saw the opportunity to expand into jewellery manufacturing as it was already dealing with the raw material, but could achieve better margins in the jewellery space while diversifying their customer base.”

By emphasising that business success is built on a clear strategic focus, the Beneficiation Programme has seen remarkable innovation in business models in the diamond sector. A company in the current cohort was initially involved in trading diamonds, with the owners being well endowed with cutting and polishing expertise.

“The trading environment, however, is extremely competitive – with many people equipped with the necessary skills of cutting, polishing, identifying and valuing diamonds,” says Fredericks. “This company therefore explored how they could create a niche for themselves, and evolved into educating diamond buyers. This training focus suited their skills, as one had been a trainer and the other a student in the De Beers-sponsored Kimberley International Diamond and Jewellery Academy.”

Important learnings within this incubation are issues that are very specific to each business – such as succession from one generation to another. A mother and daughter team tackled this daunting task and – with support and guidance – managed to transition to the daughter taking over as CEO in a business started by her mother. 

“It is impressive to see the growth of the people within these businesses, taking on more responsible roles and talking in the media about their work and offerings,” he says. 

The programme’s adaptation to include other phases of the value chain has opened doors to collaboration between the participants, he notes. The cutters and polishers are able to work closely with jewellery manufacturers, for example, in co-creating the magic of the final items. 

Another of the companies in the programme began in the trading of rough and polished diamonds, and has also been able to branch out through strategic targeting of new markets. He highlights that being a trader did not preclude them from developing and marketing jewellery into selected markets – including high-end items for corporate long-service awards. 

“Every business and entrepreneur is unique – just like diamonds,” he says. “One of our participants in the cutting and polishing trade has been able to develop her own direction by matching her interest in art with her work in diamonds.”

This is leading her to engage with artists and art studios, to curate art that speaks to the diamond story. This innovative angle is a very fresh concept, he says, but will see its expression during 2024. 

Despite the competitiveness of the diamond cutting and polishing, the programme has been able to help those participants in this trade to grow turnover significantly during its second year. He explains that after the first year of establishing commitment, De Beers supplies rough diamonds for year two. 

“Even with their better turnover, our emphasis remains on helping the SMMEs build a healthier bottom line,” says Fredericks. “This really underpins our work, as the vision is to create sustainable entities that will transform the sector while meeting participants’ diamond dreams.”

DE BEERS ON PACE TO DELIVER ON AMBITIOUS 2030 SUSTAINABILITY GOALS AND CREATE ENDURING POSITIVE IMPACT FOR PEOPLE AND THE PLANET

2022 sustainability report highlights milestones in climate ambition and ethical leadership of the diamond industry

De Beers Group today provided an update on progress toward its 2030 ‘Building Forever’ sustainability goals. The goals were set in 2020 and are De Beers’ blueprint for creating a positive and sustainable impact in its host countries and throughout the diamond value chain. They span four pillars: leading ethical practices, partnering for thriving communities, protecting the natural world, and accelerating equal opportunity.

During 2022, De Beers saw advances across all four Building Forever pillars and all 12 goals, which included reductions in water use and energy intensity, innovations in diamond tracing technology, increased representation of women in senior leadership and progress toward its climate commitments.

A notable milestone was setting emission reduction targets across Scopes 1, 2 and 3, which have been validated by the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi). De Beers’ near-term SBTi-validated targets are to reduce absolute Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions 42 percent by 2030 and to reduce absolute Scope 3 emissions 25 percent within the same timeframe. In setting the targets across all three scopes, De Beers is extending its climate ambition over and above its existing commitment to be carbon neutral across Scope 1 and 2 emissions by 2030.

The SBTi-validated targets represent the reductions required by the organisation to align with the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change. However, under its existing carbon neutral commitment and with the implementation of its ‘Reduce and Replace’ strategy, DeBeers expects to exceed its SBTi-validated targets for reducing Scope 1 and 2 emissions by 2030.

De Beers also accelerated the pace of innovation and investment in its blockchain provenance platform, Tracr. The platform was deployed at scale in 2022 and enables participants to provide assurance of a diamond’s source as it travels through the value chain. More than half of De Beers’ global production by value is now being registered on Tracr, which was recently named by Forbes as one of the world’s 50 leading blockchains for the third time.

Al Cook, CEO, De Beers Group, said: “De Beers has a simple belief that informs everything we do: the diamonds we discover belong to the communities and countries in which they are found. We are inspired by the beauty and rarity of natural diamonds and the natural world, and we know how precious diamonds are – not  only  for  the  people  who  wear  them,  but  for  all  those  they  touch  along  the  way.

“Building Forever is about taking a long-term view. We work hand-in-hand with the communities in which we live and work to shape a better future. Our actions range from addressing the climate crisis to growing prosperity wherever we operate. And by using our proprietary technologies, we can now connect our customers to the origin, impact and stories of their diamonds. Building Forever will continue to guide every decision De Beers makes and touch every diamond we discover.”

The 2022 sustainability report provides a detailed overview of the Building Forever pillars and goals, along with key progress toward each –a summary of which follows:

Leading ethical practices

De Beers is committed to advancing industry standards, enhancing the transparency of diamond provenance and improving the livelihoods ofartisanal miners.

Key highlights include:

  • Increased the number of entities participating in the Best Practice Principles, the company’s set of leading ethical, social and environmental standards which are independently audited, to 2,690 from 2,283 in 2021.
  • Launched the Tracr blockchain platform at scale, enabling diamond origin to be immutably recorded from source to store. More than half of De Beers’ global rough diamond production by value is now being registered on Tracr.
  • Increased the number of mine sites participating in GemFair, De Beers’ programme to support the formalisation of the artisanal mining sector, to 263 from 219 in 2021. The programme also provided fair and equitable finance to support the operations of 49 members.

Protecting the natural world

De Beers understands that for its business and host communities to thrive, it must protect the natural world. In all of its activities, De Beers follows best practices for biodiversity and water management, air quality, greenhouse gas emissions, waste and mine closure and rehabilitation.

Key highlights include:

  • Achieved a 14 percent reduction in freshwater withdrawals and a four percent reduction in energy intensity compared with 2021.
  • In partnership with Anglo American and EDF Renewables, commenced development of more than 70 MW of renewable energy projects in southern Africa.
  • Invested $2 million in Kelp Blue, a start-up that grows underwater kelp forests off the coast of Namibia, which can absorb carbon up to 50 times faster than land-based forests. In addition to supporting De Beers’ carbon neutral commitment, KelpBlue will also create jobs and support sustainable economic development in Namibia.
  • Marked the 20th anniversary of the Diamond Route, the 500,000-acre network of conservation sites that De Beers manages across southern Africa, protecting more than 50 mammal species.
  • Continued Okavango Eternal, a partnership with National Geographic to protect the critically important headwards of the Okavango Delta. Progress included installing innovative water monitoring technology, deepening research and understanding, and engaging with communities on soil-friendly farming methods.

Partnering for thriving communities

De Beers is focused on working with a range of stakeholders to help build a sustainable future and contribute to a better quality of life in its host communities, with particular emphasis on health and wellbeing, education and skills development, economic diversification, and livelihood support.

Key highlights include:

  • Marked two decades since the introduction of De Beers’ pioneering HIV programme to provide free and confidential treatment to employees and their families living with HIV and AIDS. The programme has helped to save an estimated 650 lives during this time and has also ensured there have been no cases of mother-to-child HIV transmission among De Beers employees or their partners for 14 consecutive years.
  • In collaboration with Right to Care, rolled out a community-oriented primary care partnership to strengthen medical clinics in southern Africa, prioritising areas that lacked medical provision.
  • Supported 420 students in securing 12-month internships in different sectors through a partnership with InternationalYouth Foundation.
  • A total of 18 southern Africa-based companies completed the Stanford Seed Transformation entrepreneurship program that De Beers supports in partnership with Stanford University.
  • In total, more than 3,340 jobs were supported by De Beers through various socioeconomic development projects and initiatives and 71 percent of its goods and services were procured from local suppliers.

Accelerating equal opportunity

De Beers is focused on accelerating economic inclusion and supporting diverse voices to help shape the future of its business, host communities and society at large, with a particular focus on addressing the historical underrepresentation of women in its talent pipeline and encouraging fresh and diverse talent into the diamond jewellery sector.

Key highlights include:

  • At the end of 2022, women comprised 33 percent of senior management positions within De Beers Group (up from 31 percent in 2021).
  • Extended the partnership with WomEng, a highly regarded social enterprise committed to helping women and girls pursue careers in engineering and technology, for another three years.
  • Since 2018, De Beers has provided 89 scholarships to women studying STEM at universities in Canada, has reached more than 3,700 school students in southern Africa through STEM workshops, and has supported more than 2,400 women entrepreneurs to grow their businesses.
  • Provided funding for a free 12-week jewellery making course for teens in New York City, which aims to fill the void of limited access to jewellery studios for teenage designers. De Beers also established an internal Equity, Diversity & Inclusion (EDI)Council bringing volunteers from across the business to deepen understanding of the company’s diverse workforce and further cultivate an inclusive culture.

De Beers Group’s full 2022 sustainability report is available to read here.

DE BEERS SIGHTHOLDER SALES SOUTH AFRICA UNVEILS ITS NEW SORTING FACILITY IN JOHANNESBURG

De Beers Sightholder Sales South Africa (DBSSSA) officially unveiled its new rough diamond sorting, valuation and sales facility in Johannesburg today at an event attended by the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy, Gwede Mantashe, Gauteng MEC of Economic Development, Tasneem Motara, and De Beers Group CEO, Al Cook.

De Beers Group announced in January 2023 that it was relocating its Sightholder Sales activities in South Africa from Kimberley, where it has been operating since 1974, to Johannesburg following a review of its sorting activities in South Africa. The relocation supports the government’s strategy to consolidate the country’s mineral beneficiation sector into one area at the Gauteng Industrial Development Zone, close to the OR Tambo International Airport. 

The relocation also supports the company’s evolving footprint in the country over the past decade, with the world class Venetia mine in the Limpopo Province being its only active mine.  With no mining activities in the Northern Cape since 2015, De Beers is consolidating its remaining operations to be in close proximity to provide efficiency in operating costs, greater effectiveness and to contribute towards the country’s national beneficiation agenda.

A total of 87 employees were successfully relocated from Kimberley to the new 6747 mfacility in Sky Park Industrial in Johannesburg, which has two floors comprising Sightholder offices, hand and machine sorting areas, a training academy and a diamond cleaning plant.

Honourable Gwede Mantashe, Minister of the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy, said: “Whilst we congratulate De Beers for the grand opening of the Sightholder Sales facility, we also welcome the R35 billion investment in the unground mining in Limpopo. We encourage you to continue investing in South African mining, particularly in the Northern Cape and other Provinces. Doing so will help us change the economic architecture which stands on three legs Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape.”

DBSSSA is part of the Global Sightholder Sales network that sells rough diamonds for beneficiation purposes in South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Canada.  It is also responsible for the distribution of De Beers rough diamonds in South Africa and seeks to support the industry at large in maintaining a sustainable diamond manufacturing industry through its beneficiation strategy.

The beneficiation strategy is aligned to the South Africa government’s local beneficiation objectives and engages in a range of activities that aim to support and further the country’s economic goals.  These include skills development, enterprise development, industry development, as well as marketing and promotion of South Africa abroad.

In South Africa, DBSSSA has nine Sightholders that it sells rough diamonds to 10 times a year. The consistent and predictable supply of rough diamonds to South African Sightholders supports their ability to invest in local cutting and polishing factories and together, they have employed 620 cutters and polishers since 2020. 

Last year, De Beers Group and several key industry players – including the SA Diamond and Precious Metals Regulator, the SA Diamond Manufacturers Association, the SA Diamond Dealers Club and the State Diamond Trader – partnered to launch a Small Beneficiator Customers (SBC) pilot programme with seven identified cutting and polishing businesses receiving assistance.

The objective of this programme is to broaden supply and access of rough diamonds to small South African owned beneficiation companies. To further assist emerging businesses with access to affordable rough diamond parcels, De Beers Group is offering SBCs parcels of diamonds consisting of an aggregated mix of diamonds from its mines in Namibia, Botswana, Canada and South Africa. 

The SBC programme follows the successful launch of the Enterprise Development Project for Diamond Beneficiators in 2016, which saw one of its alumni companies, Molefi Letsiki Diamonds, becoming the first majority black owned South African Sightholder for the De Beers Group. Nungu Diamond, a company that was also part of the first cohort, entered into a partnership with Pluczenik, a De Beers Group Sightholder, to establish Pluczenik SA, headed by Nungu Diamond’s owner Kealeboga Pule.   

Now in its second cohort, the Enterprise Development Project aims to facilitate the growth and transformation of diamond beneficiation in South Africa.  The focus is on delivering this through a holistic approach that seeks to optimise interventions in all aspects of the diamond pipeline from rough diamond purchasing, state of the art manufacturing of diamonds and jewellery, to marketing and distribution.

To date, 10 diamond cutting and polishing companies have benefitted from the ground-breaking Enterprise Development Project, with 60% of these companies being women owned and 80% black owned. Each participating company received an allocation of rough diamonds from De Beers Group, in line with their market requirements and capacity. In addition, the project facilitated local and international market access and sponsored their participation at international trade shows, including the Hong Kong Jewellery and Gem Fair and JCK Las Vegas. 

Moses Madondo, Managing Director of De Beers Group Managed Operations, said: “South Africa is a significant source of rough diamonds and aside from helping to upskill the industry, it is important for us as diamond producers to assist small beneficiation customers with access to affordable parcels of rough diamonds. We are excited to now be located in the beneficiation hub where we can continue working with our partners to further support the local beneficiation industry. South Africa is sharply focused on being internationally competitive, and with government’s support as envisaged through the GIDZ, the country is well placed to support the growth of its beneficiation sector.”    

VUP EMBARKS ON AN AUTOMATION JOURNEY

De Beers has devised an autonomous mining roadmap for its Venetia Underground Mine (VUG) that will – once fully implemented – result in the new US$2 billion mine becoming one of the most mechanised and automated mining operations in the world. 

The VUG replaces openpit operations at the Venetia Diamond Mine and extends mine life to at least 2046. Expected to start production within 2023, it will use the sub-level cave mining method.

According to Giel Marais, Principal Automation & Information at De Beers, the objective in terms of automation at the Venetia Underground Mine (VUG) is to have a number of autonomous mining systems performing multiple mining processes by 2027.

The Sandvik DD422i is a development drill rig based on an intelligent control system and engineered to provide top-level performance, accuracy and reliability for underground mine development.

“This is an ambitious goal but we believe achievable given the major technological advances made in recent years, particularly by the Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) who produce underground mining machines,” he says. “In the case of the VUG, our primary technology partner is Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions, which manufactures a full range of ‘intelligent’ mining machines that can operate independently underground within access controlled safety zones or be remotely operated from control rooms on surface.”

Marais’ colleague, Freddie Breed, Underground Technical Services Manager at De Beers, points out that the group has previous experience of autonomous mining. “De Beers commissioned the first – and only – automated trucking loop in South Africa, and one of the first worldwide, at the Finsch diamond mine in the Northern Cape in 2005,” he says. “

Marais says that while the Finsch system was revolutionary it was also limited in some respects. “The system was limited to one machine type – articulated dump trucks (ADTs) – performing one process, namely hauling, on a single level of the mine,” he explains. “By contrast, at the VUG we will eventually have a number of mining systems operational, with a variety of machines, not just ADTs, executing multiple mining processes within the same operational area. These systems will be deployed and operating simultaneously during a shift on different levels of the mine.”

The implementation of automation at the VUG will be carefully phased in on an incremental basis starting with automated machines (which still require an onboard operator although many functions are automated). Next to be introduced will be autonomous machines (which do not require an onboard operator as they are equipped with automated machine navigation and tramming and can perform – while stationary in one location – most sets of routine functions without operator input required during the cycle). The final phase of implementation will see the introduction of full autonomous mining systems.

The key characteristic of autonomous mining systems is the use of multiple autonomous machines which are managed by an integrated central traffic management system. The machines operate in predefined safety zones that are dynamically combined to create autonomous operating areas.

Underground mine simulators are used in training programmes.

Autonomous mining not only creates a safer and healthier environment for workers (by removing them from potential high risk areas of the mine) but, if implemented correctly, is also more productive than traditional techniques when measured in terms of output against available operating time. 

Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions is supplying all the primary mining equipment for the VUP for both mine development and production. This includes machines for development and production drilling, rock reinforcement, and loading and hauling. Sandvik is also providing its AutoMine® system for the remote operation of loaders and trucks and its OptiMine® system for machine health monitoring, task management and location tracking. 

As one of the first steps in its automation journey, the VUG is about to commission a pilot project which will prepare the production team for the use of remote loading at the drawpoints and autonomous tramming to the tip. With cave mining, there is a risk of mud-rushes and water ingress at drawpoints and remote loading will allow material to be loaded without putting operators at risk.

“This pilot project will have a single loader operating under AutoMine® Lite in a dedicated area on 44 Level that is isolated from other areas of the mine,” says Breed. “The machine will be controlled locally from a mobile tele-remote station just outside the autonomous operating area and not from surface.”

He adds that an integrated operations centre on surface at Venetia Mine is under construction and that it will be equipped and commissioned in H1-2023.

VENETIA TRAINING CENTRE IMPARTS UNDERGROUND MINING SKILLS

One the challenges facing De Beers as it implements its US$2,2 billion Venetia Underground Project (VUP) in South Africa’s Limpopo Province is the training of its employees – and new recruits – to allow them to acquire the necessary skills to successfully transition from open pit mining to underground mining.

The VUP involves the development of one of the world’s most advanced underground mines. Highly mechanised, it will employ the sub-level caving method to mine up to 6 Mt/a of kimberlite ore to produce between 4,5 and 5,5 million carats a year of diamonds. Once the VUP’s ramp-up is completed, the underground workforce will number around 850 people.

While the caving method to be deployed at Venetia Mine is well established (De Beers used essentially the same method at its Finsch mine in the Northern Cape when it owned and operated it until it was sold in 2011), very few of its employees at Venetia Mine have any experience of it. Not only will they have to adapt to the very different demands of an underground mining environment as they transition to the VUP but they will also have to learn the very specific skills associated with highly mechanised sub-level cave mining.

To expedite the required training, De Beers has now commissioned a training facility at Venetia able to accommodate e-learning facilities for 65 learners and classroom sessions for 95 learners at any one time. The facility represents a total investment of R188 million. At its heart are five training rooms, all with video walls and servers, as well as sophisticated mobile machine simulators.

An underground simulation area will have an emergency rescue bay and control room able to replicate situations occurring underground that could require evacuation while a virtual reality blast wall will give trainees the opportunity to mark up and charge a face.

All training will be managed by a comprehensive training management system offering modules for self-paced learning. The system is integrated into the mine’s human resources information system.

The simulators – supplied by Thoroughtec – allow operators to be trained on the Sandvik equipment – primarily trucks, loaders, drill rigs and bolters – that has been selected for the VUP. Most of the machines are classed as ‘intelligent’, meaning that they can deliver data continuously to on-surface control rooms and can be operated remotely. The simulator training is complemented by a TMM (trackless mobile machine) mock-up area on surface. Trainees will spend 15 hours in the mock-up.

As a follow-up to the training received at the training centre, De Beers has partnered with mining contractor Redpath to further enhance the skills of TMM operators. A contingent of Redpath personnel – who will be on site for the next four years – will assist with skills transfer on some of the key mechanised equipment and ensure that safety and performance levels of operators are up to the required standards.

While the training centre will focus on imparting core underground mining and TMM skills to trainees, De Beers has also developed a training package which allows both technical and non-technical personnel to familiarise themselves with the sub-level caving method. The content has been converted and incorporated into the electronic learning platform.

The sub-level caving training material has been split into 10 modules covering, amongst others, subjects such as mine design and sequencing; drill and blast; cave propagation and subsidence; cave management; and caving hazards and hazard management.

The training centre and other training initiatives at Venetia Mine all form part of De Beers’ operational readiness framework, which is designed to facilitate a smooth migration from open-pit to underground mining in terms of people, processes and systems.

WATER MANAGEMENT SYSTEM A KEY PART OF THE VUP

De Beers is making good progress on the installation of a comprehensive water management system at its Venetia Underground Project (VUP) in Limpopo Province. 

Costing US$2,2 billion to develop, the VUP will see an ultra-modern sub-level cave mine replacing the current open pit operations, which are due to cease shortly after being in production continuously since the mine opened in the early 1990s.

The cave mining method allows underground mines to achieve the same type of production rates that are normally associated with open pit mines and this is the case at Venetia. Once in full production, the VUP will produce approximately 6 Mt/a ROM to deliver between 4,5 and 5,5 million carats of diamonds a year. These figures are similar to those which have been typically achieved by the open pit operations at Venetia.

The new underground mine is located directly beneath the current open pit. Given that it is a caving operation, water ingress from the pit into the mine, particularly at times of heavy rainfall, is a risk which has to be carefully managed. 

The methods used to mitigate the risk include the installation of an extensive pumping system, as well as the construction of water control doors which will be activated if inflows exceed the capacity of the pumping system. 

The frames of the water doors are each about 8 m high and 7 m wide. The doors are 1 m thick and are designed to hold back a 100 m head of water. They will effectively seal off the ‘dry’ side of the mine, where the water pumps and other critical infrastructure are located, from the ‘wet’ side where the kimberlite is located.

In terms of the pumping systems, a major milestone was achieved in January 2022 with the completion of Pump System 2, which has the capacity to pump 100 litres/second (360 m3/h) out of the mine from a depth of 540 m. It has increased the mine dewatering capacity threefold and allows for active dewatering of the mine groundwater, which is recharged during the rainy season which runs from roughly December through to March.

The system consists of underground pump stations situated on 54-level and 46-level, as well as a pump station located in the K01 open pit on Bench No 27, which pumps to the open pit dewatering pump station located on Bench No 15.

A challenge on Pump System 2 was the installation of two pipe columns which connect the pump stations in the open pit and which are routed 120 m up the pit wall. After an initial unsuccessful attempt to install the columns, the installation method being used was reviewed and adjusted, with the new procedure adopted proving very successful.

Construction is now well underway on Pump System 1 with commissioning expected by mid-year. This system will add a further 40 litres/second (144 m3/h) of pumping capacity and involves the construction of a further two pump stations underground on 46-level and 54-level and one on the surface at Terrace 3 together with all interconnecting pipework.

Pump Systems 1 and 2 are interim water pumping solutions until the main pump station in constructed on 56-level. This is scheduled for completion in Q3 2023. Once it is in operation, the full pumping capacity will be 4 500 m3/h.

Construction of the first water door is currently in progress and it has had an extensive engineering review to ensure the integrity of the installation. The door is secured by 40 mm rock anchors, 234 in total, which are each about 2,5 m long and pinned 1,5 m deep into the host rock.

In total, six water doors must be installed before December 2022 to allow first ore production from the VUP to start by the end of the year. The installation of the water doors will therefore be a major focus for the underground construction team over the next several months.

An interesting point is that De Beers has invested R70 million in a new weather station at Venetia. This is linked to South African Weather Services and will give timely warning of heavy rainfall events and enable the mine to prepare in advance for possible excessive water ingress.

DE BEERS HELPS BUILD STRONGER COMMUNITIES

For decades, De Beers Group has put considerable resources into improving the socio-economic status of communities surrounding its mines and operations with its efforts meeting with considerable success. 

It is now taking its community engagement to the next level with ambitious and measurable goals having been set for the next decade as part of the Building Forever initiative, which has ‘Partnering for Thriving Communities’ as one of its four core pillars.

Building Forever builds on many past successes for De Beers, including a World First HIV/AIDS health programme at its diamond mines in Botswana, launched in 2001. According to Dr Tshepo Sedibe, Health Lead for the De Beers Group, the programme – which includes free anti-retroviral treatment for employees and their ‘dependants’ – has resulted in the mortality rate from AIDS amongst employees reducing from 31 % to just 0,1 %. 

Another outcome is that De Beers in 2019 marked more than 10 years of no babies being born with HIV to HIV-positive mothers. 

De Beers’ experience with AIDS and HIV has also contributed to it making a highly effective response to the COVID-19 pandemic. “When the pandemic started, we rapidly took measures to protect our internal employees and our contractors but it rapidly became apparent that we needed to take our efforts into the communities,” says Nerys John, Head of Social Impact at De Beers. 

“Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and sanitation became of utmost importance in the schools and hospitals in our host communities in order to prevent transmission. As things developed, we then adapted our approach to include the provision of testing, intensive care unit beds, oxygen and isolation centres.”

Given that mines eventually close and that when this happens communities can lose their main source of livelihoods, De Beers places major emphasis on providing community members with skills that will allow them to support themselves after mining operations cease. Nowhere is this more apparent than at De Beers’ Venetia mine in South Africa’s Limpopo Province.

“We have several socio-economic initiatives running in the Venetia area but one of the most significant is the supplier development programme which is designed to promote local procurement,” says Greg Petersen, De Beers Group Manager – Socio-economic Development. 

“We’ve already appointed more than 50 suppliers in terms of the programme. The biggest of these is the bus company we use to transport employees from the Musina and Blouberg areas to the mine. We’ve worked to ensure that communities have a stake in the company and indeed it is now 40 % owned by community members. 

DE BEERS ROLLS OUT DRIVER ASSISTANCE TECHNOLOGY

Pioneering the use of advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) in the mining sector, De Beers Group is successfully rolling out this safety innovation across its operations in southern African.

The world’s leading diamond producer places Putting Safety First Everywhere  as its number one value and has been fatality-free for the past two years, according to Dr Urishanie Govender, De Beers Group Head of Safety and Sustainable Development. 

“The application of ADAS aligns with our culture of pioneering brilliance as we equip our operations for Future Smart Mining,” says Dr Govender. “This exciting initiative has provided another valuable tool for our amazing people on site who are constantly looking for ways to improve our safety performance.”

She highlights that the intervention contributes to the De Beers Group’s critical control management, one of  the areas for advancement identified at the company’s regular safety summits. “Driven by the chief executive officers across the group, the specific focus areas are Competence, Culture, Connectedness, and Cultivating Care to enable everyone to be Ready to Respond to Risks.”  

Head of Asset Strategy and Reliability at De Beers Group, Meshal Ruplal says the first phase of the ADAS initiative saw the technology being installed on buses and any vehicles that carry five or more people. In a second phase, vehicles with four passengers were fitted with the equipment. The technology comprises a range of functionality, including cameras to monitor harsh and distracted driving. 

“The camera software can also check on the driver’s eyelid movements and other indicators of drowsiness, and can transmit short video clips to a control room for improved monitoring,” says Ruplal. “It can register infringements like changing lanes without indicating, or crossing a solid barrier line.”

The technology – which has been well proven in the trucking industry abroad – assists the driver by checking if there is a safe distance to the vehicle in front, recognising speed limit signs and detecting whether the seat belt is being worn. 

“ADAS makes an important contribution to our coaching and training activities, as the data we gather is fed back to drivers to continuously improve their performance,” he says. “Used as a proactive warning system the technology has generally received good support from drivers and their trade unions.”

He notes that De Beers Group’s contractors – who assume much of the company’s staff transportation function – have been quick to come on board and align with the ever more stringent safety standards. 

Govender emphasises the collaborative approach taken to ensure all the necessary stakeholders are together on the safety journey, requiring that contractors participate actively in the company’s efforts to leverage technology in pursuit of resilience and sustainability. 

EMERALD PROJECT BENEFITS FROM VERSATILE DIAMOND SORTING TECHNOLOGY

Adapting one of its X-ray fluorescence (XRF) diamond sorting range of machines, De Beers Group Technology has created a secure and efficient sorting solution for emeralds.

According to De Beers Group Technology head Gordon Taylor, the company’s sorting technologies have been applied to a range of minerals apart from diamonds, and these include gemstones like rubies to lower value commodities like manganese and coal.

“We are always on the look-out for new applications for our sorting equipment, which also employ X-ray luminescence, X-ray transmission, laser, magnetics and ultra-violet technologies,” says Taylor. “So we were excited by the opportunity to collaborate with Magnum Mining and Exploration on their Gravelotte emerald project in Limpopo province.”

In its trial mining and processing phase, Gravelotte has been gathering data to confirm the historic grades previously recovered at the Gravelotte project. In operation for much of the 20th century, total recorded production from this area was estimated at nearly 113 million carats. It was reportedly the world’s largest emerald mine of its type in the 1960s, employing over 400 sorters.

General manager of operations at Gravelotte, Wessel Marais, highlighted that the traditional manual method of sorting carried an associated security risk and also led to recoveries that were not optimum.

“Various mechanical sorting options are available on the market today,” says Marais, “and Magnum approached De Beers Group Technology to determine whether their diamond sorting technology could be adapted to emerald sorting.”

He says that testing of samples provided by Magnum was highly successful.

“This led to Magnum leasing an XRF machine from De Beers Group Technology for the duration of our trial mining, and the results to date have been very encouraging,” he says. “With the machines now deployed in the operational environment, research and development work is continuing in conjunction with De Beers Group Technology to refine the process.”

Taylor notes that constructive collaboration with customers is often an important element in extending the application of De Beers Group Technology’s equipment.

“On this project, we were able to conduct some fundamental investigation on the properties of emeralds to guide us in developing the most effective solution,” he says.

Nico van Zyl, De Beers Group Technology marketing and new business development manager, agrees. “You really need a partner who is willing to cooperate with you, as there is considerable effort that each has to contribute,” says van Zyl. “Our team is always enthusiastic about exploring new applications, and has the expertise and experience to know what is possible and how to achieve it.”

The De Beers Group Technology emerald sorting machine can make a potentially significant contribution to the success of the Gravelotte operation, with its high recoveries combined with excellent processing security. The project aims to reach a target of around 3 million carats a year as its initial production rate.

Before the run-of-mine material reaches the De Beers Group Technology XRF machine, it is crushed to -30 mm and put through a trommel screen for cleaning and further size reduction. After material containing emeralds is ejected from the material stream by the sorter, it is further sorted by hand and graded.

“De Beers Group Technology is constantly pushing the boundaries where our equipment can be applied, and has had significant successes in non-diamond commodities. Whether removing the value product or the waste from the process stream, our sorting technologies can be the game-changer in the viability of many projects,” Taylor concludes.