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Venetia Underground: Digging deep and doing good

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Phillip Barton

Excavation work for our US$2 billion underground extension of the Venetia Mine got off to an illustrious start, with leaders from the South African government, Limpopo Province, De Beers and Anglo American shovelling the first earth.

It was a symbolic gesture, of course, but I remember thinking, as I watched the event in October 2013, the year De Beers celebrated its 125th anniversary, that it was a fitting beginning for the seven-year construction project. It means that we will remain the country’s leading diamond company beyond 2040 and well past our 150th anniversary.

In the decades ahead, our grandchildren will place diamonds from Venetia in their wedding rings, while the Province and its communities will continue to benefit from the mine’s existence.

From 2021, when the first diamond-containing ore is scheduled to arrive on surface for processing, 133 million tonnes of ore, containing an estimated 94 million carats, will begin to be treated. This is the biggest single investment in South Africa’s diamond industry and one of the largest mining projects currently underway in the country.

It’s a huge investment for De Beers that will contribute significantly to the economy and people of South Africa during the construction phase as well as during production. We are also investing further in safety by conducting studies to automate potentially dangerous sections of the mine, making the whole mining process safer and more efficient.

Estimates suggest that more than 6,000 jobs will be supported by the underground operation each year from 2021 to the end of production.

But it doesn’t stop there. The project is likely to contribute hugely to the country’s gross domestic product during construction and even more once extraction begins.

What gives those of us who work for De Beers in South Africa great satisfaction, and at the Venetia Mine in particular, is the way the underground project will invest in the local mine-related communities across the Limpopo Province.

De Beers is dedicated to ensuring that mining operations benefit the communities closest to us. This, in my view, extends beyond compliance and is an integral part of how we do business. As such, our investment in the Venetia Underground Project results in a positive impact on the nearby communities of Blouberg and Musina.  

Venetia Mine has contributed R12 million towards road infrastrustructure in Musina and constructed an Early Childhood Development Centre in Grootpan Village in Blouberg at a cost of R2.2 million.

As part of the partnership with the Limpopo Department of Education, hostel blocks were renovated at Ratanang Special School in Senwabarwana, following a R13 million contribution from De Beers. Ratanang Special School is one of the few in Limpopo that caters for learners with special needs.

Each contractor on the Venentia Underground Project has invested between 0.5% and 1% of their total value of its contract back into our communities.

These investments are managed through the Venetia Contractor CSI Forum, which was established last year and has already celebrated numerous successes in 2014. Let me give you a few examples.

Murray and Roberts Cementation is sinking, equipping and commissioning the two vertical shafts and the development of the first part of the decline from the surface to 900m below ground. Its R500,000 (US$40,787) contribution to the De Beers Saturday School in Limpopo has supported 180 students from Alldays and Musina and given them the opportunity to improve their competence in mathematics, physical science and English.

With local contractor VM Diamond generously providing R240,000 (US$19,577) towards transporting students from remote rural areas to the various venues, this partnership has made access to world class tutorials and exam preparation possible for the students entirely free of charge.

When Consolidated Power Projects (Conco) learnt of the challenges experienced by Musina High School in providing suitable sanitation and washing facilities for students, it stepped in to lend a hand. In a R284,242 (US$23,186) upgrade, Conco took on a large-scale project to fix blocked and burst sewerage pipes and to overhaul the existing washing facilities. As a result, more than 1,800 high school students now have access to clean ablution facilities.

In a similar public-spirited vein, Mbatini used its electrical engineering expertise to install a new electrical grid and equipment at Alldays Secondary School. The project cost R50,000 (US$4,078) and is still making a positive impact on the quality of schooling, with Mbatini providing monthly monitoring and maintenance.

Another company that used its contribution to benefit education was Barloworld, which donated five smart boards to Musina Primary School. In addition, contributions from Venetia Underground Project contractors such as AEL, Sandvik and Dezzo Equipment total R588,516 (US$44,838) so far and have added to the considerable investment in community development.

We look forward to a number of exciting initiatives still to come this year, including the construction of a Community Training Centre by BMH Africa and Servest’s provision of business financing and mentorship to help a small local business enter the catering and housekeeping industry.

Through the power of partnership, the companies helping to make the Venetia Underground Project a reality are providing a real and lasting investment in our mining communities.

We know that diamonds do good and, together, we’re making sure they continue to do so.

Phillip Barton
Chief Executive Officer, De Beers Consolidated Mines

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