De Beers’s headquarters on Charterhouse Street in London. Picture: SIMON DAWSON/BLOOMBERG
De Beers’s headquarters on Charterhouse Street in London. Picture: SIMON DAWSON/BLOOMBERG

De Beers folded its diminished SA and Canadian businesses into a single unit under the leadership of Nompumelelo Zikalala, a 18-year veteran of the world’s largest rough diamond producer by value.

De Beers, which is 85% owned by Anglo American, has closed and sold mines in SA and Canada in recent years as the assets reached the end of their lives or remained stubbornly unprofitable, with London-listed Petra Diamonds a major beneficiary of De Beers’ mine sales in SA.

With the Voorspoed mine in SA on the cusp of closure, De Beers will have just one mine in SA, the Venetia mine, which is in a $2bn project to move to underground mining from opencast operations.

In Canada, De Beers has closed and flooded its unprofitable Snap Lake mine and will close its depleted Victor mine by the middle of 2019.

Given the smaller asset base in both countries, De Beers has merged the two businesses into a single unit called De Beers group managed operations, including De Beers marine, which operates ships sucking diamonds off the ocean floor on the coast of Namibia with Zikalala as its managing director, promoted from her role as deputy CEO of the SA business.

As a chemical engineer by training, Zikalala has had a meteoric rise through the SA business since starting as an ore process engineer in 2001 at the Cullinan mine, which is now a Petra mine.

Phillip Barton, a 30-year veteran of De Beers and the CEO of De Beers consolidated mines, the SA business, will leave, as will Kim Truter, who heads up the Canadian business, which has the shared Gahcho Kué mine as its main asset.

“The new business will streamline operational management and identify synergies to create a more sustainable business in the two countries,” said De Beers CEO Bruce Cleaver.

“Our businesses in these countries face very different challenges and require a leader of Mpumi’s skill, vision and experience to maximise their full potential,” he said.

De Beers in SA is forging ahead with an exploration programme to find fresh deposits, with Barton saying in a recent interview with Business Day that the country was one of the five most prospective countries to find diamondiferous kimberlites, which are ancient volcanic pipes containing diamonds.

SA was once the world’s leading source of diamonds and De Beers was founded in 1888.

seccombea@businesslive.co.za