The search continues...
VITTORIA JOOSTE – Manager: New Business De Beers Consolidated Mines (DCBM) – has a quote by T S Elliot hanging on her office wall. It’s particularly apt for the person in charge of exploration in South Africa. “We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started... and know the place for the first time.” – T S Elliot.
Interpreting the quote with diamond mining in SA in mind it gives a nod to it as the home of the first significant diamond mines. And continuing the interpretation in that vein perhaps reflects De Beers and Jooste’s desire to continue to explore and find diamond deposits just as had been done in the past and in a sense of renewing SA’s diamond industry.
One of the largest historical diamond producers, SA may be seen by some as less prospective when it comes to finding large diamond deposits than other countries because so many of its diamonds have already been mined. But Jooste doesn’t agree and says given there have been major diamond finds in SA, perhaps it’s more likely that there are still some big finds out there, but they will be harder to discover. She says there’s much more to investigate, given how exploration as a discipline has developed. If there were large deposits to be found using relatively less advanced exploration techniques a few decades ago, perhaps using more sophisticated techniques you could “assume other significant discoveries could be made”.
“We still believe there’s value to be found. We have a number of exploration targets, with exploration driven by what we know with the reviewing of existing geological data using new techniques and new understanding,” says Jooste.
Much work is carried out from aircraft completing surveys, and data can be bought and assessed together with other new and existing data that, analysed together, may result in the highlighting of previously hidden geological anomalies. “We want to do as much work as possible before we get on the ground. We want to make sure our selection of an area is quite accurate,” she says.
DBCM has prospecting rights in the Free State, Mpumalanga, Limpopo and North West provinces. In some areas people are already working on the ground and in others airborne surveys are still being carried out. Jooste says the team has been finding anomalies and some kimberlites but points out that globally there are more than 5 000 known kimberlites but less than 1% of them would make an economically viable mine.
“The odds are very low, but given SA’s mining history the odds of a discovery may be a bit higher say 3% – but it’s still like looking for a needle in a haystack,” she says.
DBCM has a budget of around R20m for greenfields exploration in SA for 2008, though none of the projects are yet in feasibility study stage. But while Jooste is optimistic she doesn’t want to raise expectations as diamond people know just how elusive an economically viable mine is. DBCM is working over the ground holdings it has in SA and off the country’s Atlantic coast.
“We’re exploring to see if there are new nodes of mineralisation that should be included in future mine plans for Peace in Africa (De Beers’ marine diamond mining vessel)”, says Jooste. The probability of a diamond mine discovery from an outfit with 120 years of experience just has to be better than by any other geologists.