De Beers has responded to COVID-19 with a range of measures at its global operations with possibly its most impressive initiative being the establishment of a COVID-19 testing laboratory at its Venetia mine in South Africa’s Limpopo province.

Venetia, which is in the process of becoming an underground mine after nearly 30 years of open-pit operations, is De Beers’ sole producing mine in South Africa.

This article first appeared in Mining Elites in Africa 2021
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It employs over 4 000 people, including contractors.

The US$500 000 laboratory, equipped with a PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) machine and other vital equipment such as centrifuges, will play a vital role in the diagnostic testing process of COVID-19.

“Going the extra mile in its response to COVID-19 with a lab at site as well as helping with other effects of the pandemic.” – Jim Pooley

Expected to analyse at least 80 tests per day with a 24-hour turnaround time for results, it will help speed up diagnoses and curb the spread of the virus.

The lab is operated by two technicians.

In addition, three clinical associates have been appointed to carry out home visits as part of the WeCare programme.

Designed to encourage employees and contractors to protect themselves from exposure and transmission of COVID-19, the programme will also help monitor and manage their health should they test positive.

Commenting on the initiative, Mpumi Zikalala, MD, De Beers Group Managed Operations, says:

“As a business, our first and most important value is to Put Safety First. We value the health and safety of our people above all else and are equally committed to delivering support to our host communities throughout this difficult period.

“The PCR laboratory is one element of our range of proactive response measures to support the fight against this global pandemic and through which we hope to increase access to testing, not only for our employees, but also communities in partnership with the Department of Health.”

Dr Phophi Ramathuba, Limpopo Health MEC, noted that the laboratory would go a long way in assisting government and the provincial authority to deal with the current testing backlog.

“As a resource-constrained department, we do appreciate every single collaboration, especially the likes of this laboratory, which not only will focus on testing employees at Venetia, but will include community members as well,” he said.

Other moves by De Beers to counter the virus in the Venetia mine area have included the supply of personal protective equipment such as surgical masks and disposable gowns to emergency services; providing access to water for 10 000 people; sanitation supplies to vulnerable women; soap supply to local schools; 4 000 monthly food parcels for vulnerable households; and the extension of a waiting room at a local hospital.

Support has also been provided to clinics and hospitals.

De Beers has also made a US$200 000 donation across its four producer partner countries of Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Botswana to assist women’s shelters and support organisations to respond to an increase in gender-based violence resulting from the pandemic.

A quarter of this amount has been assigned to South Africa and is primarily benefitting communities in the Venetia area.