A short drive from the edge of the gold belt west of Johannesburg lies one of the world’s biggest alluvial diamond deposits, stretching deep into the Atlantic Ocean. But onerous, costly regulations, corruption and nit-picking officials are destroying a once-vibrant junior mining sector, say a diminishing number of diggers.
Digger after digger talks of how difficult it has become to operate small mines that dig into ancient riverbeds more than 100-million years old, and an even older seafloor.
These deposits should lend themselves to small-scale mining, wealth creation and employment across hundreds of kilometres stretching through farmlands, impoverished towns and settlements where unemployment is rife and work opportunities outside agriculture are slim. But that isn’t the case.
Once 4,000 miners employed 25,000 people, but this has dropped to about 150 with a workforce of 5,000, said Gert van Niekerk, chairman of the South African Diamond Producers Organisation, representing the majority of the miners.
“We have to stress to the government and the mines ministry that this sector can work if treated properly. It can create jobs and keep the economies of so many little towns alive, something that’s not happening now.”