De Beers’ Venetia Underground Project : Milestone Delivery

Thomas ArnoldJoshua MannJack Salter
Thomas Arnold - Senior Head of Projects Joshua Mann - Regional Director Jack Salter - Head of Editorial
A drill rig at the Venetia Underground Mine
A drill rig at the Venetia Underground Mine

Kobus Van den Berg, General Manager of Underground Production, updates us on the latest progress of De Beers’ Venetia Underground Project during the past year and details the landmark delivery of first production.


De Beers’ USD$2.3 billion underground expansion of SA’s leading diamond mine, which ceased open pit mining operations in December 2022 after 30 years of production from the Tier 1 asset, represents the biggest single investment in the country’s diamond mining industry for decades. 

The highly mechanised underground operation will deliver up to six million tonnes (t) of kimberlite ore per year to produce around four million carats of diamonds annually. 

Last year, De Beers celebrated the delivery of first production from underground operations at its Venetia Mine, a highly anticipated milestone and a landmark achievement witnessed by the mining industry. 

This significant event marked a new chapter in the history of diamond mining at the Venetia Mine, showcasing the dedication, innovation, and collaborative efforts of all involved. 

“The Venetia Mine represents a bold transition from open-pit mining to underground operations, as cemented by the team’s first production blast,” acclaims General Manager of Underground Production, Kobus Van den Berg. 

This strategic move was driven by the need to access deeper diamond reserves, opening up new opportunities for the extraction of high-quality gems. 

“The increased production will contribute to meeting global diamond demand and solidify the Venetia Mine’s position as a prominent diamond producer,” he adds.


Having delivered first production from its underground operations, the investment in the world-class Venetia Mine will bolster De Beers’ global production in the long term and is an indication of the company’s commitment to SA. 

The underground expansion extends the life of the operation by an estimated 25 years, ensuring the continued longevity and sustainability of the Venetia Mine, securing the livelihoods of workers, and contributing to the local economy.  

Transitioning to underground mining at the Venetia Mine involved the implementation of advanced mining techniques. For example, the underground mine will use sublevel caving to extract material from its K01 and K02 orebodies. 

Initially, the ore will be hauled to the surface using a combination of underground and surface haul trucks. As the operation matures, the hauling systems will transition to an automated truck loop in combination with vertical shafts for steady-state production. 

Known for its efficiency and safety, sublevel caving was chosen as the primary mining method, and the journey ahead will likely involve continuous technological advancements. 

“The mining industry is constantly evolving and embracing new technologies and innovation which will enhance operational efficiency, safety, and productivity. Automation, data analytics, and advanced monitoring systems will be further integrated to optimise mining operations,” Van den Berg notes. 

Venetia Mine first Under Ground Blast


With these technological advancements and the underground expansion of the Venetia Mine, training has therefore been important to transition De Beers’ employees from open pit to underground mining. 

The success of VUP relies heavily on the workforce, and going into an underground operation naturally requires a complete shift in mindset. As a result, De Beers has partnered with a Tier 1 contractor to teach the necessary skillsets. 

“This is done through the training and assessment of our employees. In this way, we will ensure that no one is left behind and they have the necessary skills to take VUP further,” says Van den Berg. 

“Upskilling our team to operate a mine of the future remains key. We are prioritising the training of long drill operators, who are crucial to advancing VUP, and trackless mobile machine operators following the first production in June 2023.” 

To date, more than 30 000 interventions for both new and existing employees have been completed since the USD$10.5 million Venetia Mine training centre was commissioned in June 2021. This was a key component of its operational readiness framework to enhance the transformation of people, processes, and systems for the successful transition from open pit to underground mining. 

Training covers areas such as health and safety, the operation of underground equipment, and technical aspects, including geology. It also involves training for ventilation, which is key for underground operations, as well as sophisticated equipment such as winders. 

Early warning systems training is also undertaken to ensure that mine workers understand the meaning of various alarms for safety purposes. 

As De Beers is building an underground mine that will eventually be autonomous, skilled personnel are therefore required for this ambitious technological development. 

“People will still be responsible for operating mining equipment, but will do so remotely, removed from any potential danger underground,” confirms Van den Berg. 

As a follow-up to the training which employees receive at the centre, De Beers has partnered with Tier 1 mining contractor, Redpath, to further enhance the skills of its operators on key mechanised equipment and ensure safety and performance levels meet international mining standards.

Venetia Mine first Under Ground Blast


In order to create a fully autonomous mine, the company’s digital transformation journey continued to progress in 2023 and is an integral part of the underground expansion. 

De Beers’ objective is to have a number of autonomous mining systems performing multiple processes by 2027. The introduction of these systems is now beginning, with a ramp-up process occurring over the next four years. 

The technologies that De Beers is implementing, some of which are under development, will be gradually phased in. 

“Automation at VUP will be applied in a phased approach, then gradually introduced with the necessary training in the operation and support of these technologies,” Van den Berg divulges.  

VUP has partnered with Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions (Sandvik), who manufactures the iSeries range of intelligent automated mining machines, which can be operated underground within access-controlled safety zones or from a control room on the surface.  

Sandvik has delivered a 34-strong fleet made up of load haul dump (LHD) machines, articulated dump trucks (ADTs), twin-boom drill rigs, roof bolters, cable bolters, and production long hole drills. 

“These iSeries machines include 17 and 21 t payload LH517i and LH621i LHDs, 51 t payload TH551i ADTs, DS412i roof bolters, DS422i cable bolters, DL422i production drills, and DD422i face drills,” shares Van den Berg.

“Automation at VUP will be applied in a phased approach, then gradually be introduced with the necessary training in the operation and support of these technologies”

Kobus Van den Berg, General Manager of Underground Production, Venetia Underground Project
VUP Media Day Visit


This first phase of introducing automation to VUP includes Sandvik’s DD422i automated underground drill rig, which is being implemented with the help of Anglo American’s technical service department. 

iSeries drill rigs simplify operations using automated functions, while an intuitive user interface delivers a consistent operator experience across all drill models.  

The proven Sandvik Intelligent Control System Architecture (SICA), a key component of the iSeries family, provides the operator with real-time feedback regarding the machine’s performance and health, along with tools for drill planning, reporting, and analysis, ensuring quality and consistency hole-to-hole. 

Sandvik is additionally providing its AutoMine® system for the remote operation of loaders and trucks, as well as its OptiMine® solution for machine health monitoring, task management, and location tracking.  

On top of Sandvik’s OptiMine® and AutoMine®, De Beers is looking to integrate Howden’s Ventsim™ CONTROL system for monitoring, controlling, and optimising underground ventilation. 

The company is also employing the Mobilaris Mining Intelligence platform for personnel location and situational awareness to help locate individuals in case of an emergency and notify them of incidents should they occur.  

On the productivity side, De Beers is employing a cave management system to reduce overdrawing, linking the sublevel caving mine plan with on-board LHD diagnostics and bucket weighing for efficiency and safety. 

“When working in harmony, all of this will make it easier for us to reach our goal of achieving just under six metric tonnes per annum (Mtpa) of kimberlite ore and at least four million carats per year,” states Van den Berg. 

Following this, the next stage will be to introduce autonomous machines, which do not require an onboard operator.  

The final phase will then be the implementation of a complete autonomous mining system, comprising the use of multiple autonomous machines working in harmony and managed by an integrated central traffic management system. 

In addition, the company recently migrated to its integrated operations control room, where all operations will be carried out when the mine is fully automated. 

Where appropriate, De Beers will take advantage of proven technologies first to ease the change management process, before advancing to less mature technologies thereafter. 

“The process should see us start operating areas of the mine in a fully autonomous capacity by 2027,” Van den Berg excites. 

“We will be integrating more technologies into the mix – digital mobility, data analytics, a cave management system, collision prevention, personnel alert systems, equipment location and tracking, production management through digital platforms, and centralised blasting systems,” he adds.


Infrastructure development at VUP is around 72 percent complete, with the miner on target for production ramp-up and project completion by 2028. 

To date, the miner, which initiated its first blast at the end of June 2023, is in the early stages of production. 

“We are also busy developing our second ore body, K02, from which we will start production in 2026,” reveals Van den Berg.  

“Production is currently focused on the top of mine (TOM), which is located between 450 and 540 metres (m) below surface from 46 Level (46L) to 54 Level (54L). The main infrastructure is located 900m to 1,000m below surface.” 

The remaining infrastructure development yet to be completed includes the installation of water management systems, such as pump stations on 56 Level (56L) to cater for the excess water during the rainy seasons, as well as the construction of a primary crusher on 54L. 

Further to this, the service shaft, which is currently at roughly 1,000m, will be equipped and deepened by 60m. 

“There is roughly 30 percent of infrastructure development that still needs to be completed, which is earmarked for completion by 2027/28,” Van den Berg outlines. 

A state-of-the-art Integrated Operations Centre (IOC), meanwhile, was recently launched on Tuesday 26th January 2024, enabling a digital environment for driving sustainable improvement at the Venetia Mine.  

With the safety of VUP teams as the project’s number one priority, IOC will be critical in monitoring potential hazards and creating a safe underground operating environment.  

IOC’s design and use of sophisticated technology will ensure that the underground teams work safely and efficiently, while having around-the-clock support in case of emergencies. 

VUP looks forward to the positive impact that IOC will have on its journey towards achieving zero harm.

Anglo American Sustainability Committee Visit


As well as increasing De Beers’ long-term global production, the underground expansion of the Venetia Mine will also bring positive socioeconomic impacts to the region. 

The transition has led to the creation of new job opportunities, providing employment and skills development for local communities.  

Furthermore, the mine’s operations generate economic growth through local procurement, infrastructure development, and community investments, contributing to sustainable progression in the area. 

The underground expansion will therefore benefit the lives of South African host communities, which De Beers is committed to having a positive impact on. 

This commitment is further exemplified by the launch of De Beers’ Building Forever sustainability strategy, comprising 12 goals that focus on leaving a lasting legacy, one of which includes establishing the means to ensure that host communities thrive. 

De Beers has also partnered with the International Youth Foundation to ensure that graduates from technical vocational education and training (TVET) colleges are equipped with the right skill sets required for available jobs. 

The programme has been rolled out by De Beers to benefit 12,000 students and lecturers in Limpopo, and through digitisation, it has in fact been possible to extend the scheme to all 50 TVET colleges across the country. 

Moreover, for communities to thrive, it is essential that they have access to necessities such as water and healthcare. 

De Beers has therefore been working with many villages surrounding its operations to provide infrastructure related to water access closer to the communities.  

“We also sponsor various sporting codes as it promotes a healthy lifestyle for communities,” Van den Berg informs us. 

Concentrated on the critical pillars of its sustainability strategy, De Beers’ Building Forever 2030 Goals were developed in partnership with the communities in which it operates.  

The company has set out clear pathways for achieving these goals and will measure its progress along the way. De Beers will work towards hitting its targets by collaborating with key partners, investing in innovation and technology, and assessing itself against performance metrics. 

“We are partnering with academics, educational institutions, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and government to help build livelihoods and create jobs in our host communities through regional, enterprise, and supplier development support,” reveals Van den Berg.  

“We’re providing access to opportunities through education and skills programmes, focused on both supporting traditional education as well as preparing and building resilience for an increasingly digital and automated future for both our local communities and workforce.” 

De Beers is also working with local partners and investing in campaigns, programmes, and facilities, with a particular focus on women and youth, to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 3 (SDG3) targets for good health and well-being.

“The well-being of our people is our number one priority, and safety remains the most important area of focus for our team”

Kobus Van den Berg, General Manager of Underground Production, Venetia Underground Project
VUP employees participate in an interactive training programme


Safety has remained an intrinsic thread in VUP throughout the past year and indeed since the project’s inception. 

De Beers’ number one value is ‘Put Safety First’, which drives the company’s goal of achieving zero harm.  

Understanding that safety is everyone’s responsibility and embracing this key value requires the company to ensure that everyone is doing their part to create a zero-harm workplace. 

“The well-being of our people is our number one priority, and safety remains the most important area of focus for our team,” Van den Berg emphasises.  

“This is what makes the Venetia Mine a safe and mature operation. Our business case is built on our ability to improve safety and keep our people away from harm, as well as to make us more efficient and beat inflation, ensuring the margins we promised investors are realised.” 

Nothing is more important to the overall success of De Beers and VUP than employees going home safely each and every day. 

“We are seeing some improvement as we drive our value of ‘Show We Care’ through the successful participation in the Brother’s and Sister’s Keepers and SafeSENTRY programmes,” he tells us. 

Safety has always been a top priority in the mining industry, and the Venetia Mine is no exception. 

Rigorous safety protocols, comprehensive training programmes, and state-of-the-art monitoring systems have been implemented in the mine to ensure the well-being of the workforce.  

This commitment to safety has resulted in a collaborative culture where every individual plays an active role in maintaining a safe working environment.  

“As the underground mine progresses, operational refinements will be made based on real-time data and feedback,” concludes Van den Berg.  

“Over and above the safety aspirations, continuous improvement initiatives will aim to optimise mining methods, streamline processes, and reduce costs.”

PUBLISHED BY:Outlook Publishing
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By Thomas Arnold Senior Head of Projects
By Joshua Mann Regional Director
Joshua Mann is Regional Director (Resources, Oil & Gas, and Mining) specialising in showcasing innovation and corporate success across Africa. Joshua works with c-suite executives, industry titans and sector disruptors to bring you exclusive features.