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Kleinzee - De Beers Diamond Mine
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I had booked a tour of the Kleinzee diamond mine in advance, since I've never before visited any mine. First of all: I didn't see any diamonds. But the 80 ZAR tour fee were worth it anyway! Book in advance at Naries or directly with Priscilla or Jackie of the Kleinzee tourist office.

I had to leave Naries at 6:30 am, to arrive in Kleinzee before 8:00. The drive was beautiful, with the sun rising in the rear mirror - but 6:30 was really early... At the gate of Kleinzee, I was issued a day permit to visit the mine. A special treat was the sight of a black-and-white house cat in the gate security office - I hadn't seen a cat for weeks! Unfortunately I couldn't take a picture, since it was a security cat.

 

Kleinzee is a De Beers company town, established after a site of alluvial (river-brought) diamonds had been found some 70 years ago. Everyone there works directly or indirectly in the mine. The town is a cosy little place, like a seaside resort, with shops, primary school, a hospital, libraries, sports grounds and even a 9 hole golf course. And with tight security. "The best place to raise children, in security, but a place with a wind which can give you depressions", according to our guide, Priscilla Smits.

I met Priscilla and four other tourists in the Tourist information, and we were first given mine-proof shoes, hard hats and earplugs. And we were briefed what can be taken into the mining area, and what can't be taken out. So one camera is okay, but no spare batteries. No liquids (like contact lens drops or lip balm). No coins or other metal stuff. We were then showed a video, about how diamonds are mined, and what the town has to offer. We were then driven to the mine entrance. We had to bring our cameras to the freight transfer desk, to have them sealed and sent through. We then passed a special door, and in we were!

 


The diamond mining process
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The tour didn't follow the steps in the mining process, which confused me a bit. As an afterthought, it might be a good idea to provide tourists with a sheet describing the mining process. So I hope I got it right:

  1. The area is prospected, i.e. searched with trial boreholes and infrared investigation. If it looks promising, the top soil is removed for later restoration, and the dragline is brought there.
  2. The dragline will remove the top 10-30 m of sand - most bedrocks are covered by dunes. The dragline's bucket can carry 73 tons of sand, 45 times per hour. It is operated 24x7, by 5 people. De Beers bought the dragline in the 1980s, and it is small compared to draglines in copper or other mines. But it was still impressing to me. We could visit the operation room, as well as the engine room while the dragline was working.
  3. After the dragline excavated a proper hole, the bedrock team arrives to cut out the diamond-containing gravel. This is done with jackhammers and axes, and the gravel is sucked into a container with long tubes. After their work, this leaves a blank bedrock, to be renaturated later.
  4. The gravel is then transported with 35 tons trucks to the milling/sieving building (or stored in secured places, to keep the mine's average production constant). The stones are filled into a big mill which grinds them to smaller gravels - the ideal size is less than a centimeter. The stones are then washed and sorted in the same building, with shaking sieves with different "pore sizes". The smallest stones are then sealed into "high-concentration" containers and brought to the sorting building.
  5. We couldn't watch the sorting, but were only showed the process in the movie. The diamond-stone gravel is mixed with a liquid and then sorted according to higher specific density of diamonds compared to stones (somehow making use of gravity, this is why the building is 10 floors high). The diamond-enriched granulate is then sent through ultraviolet light which makes the diamonds flash, but not the stones. In response to each flash, an air stream pushes the flashing diamond into its bucket. After this step, humans come into play, to finally sort out the diamonds.
  6. The raw diamonds are sent by De Beers to Johannesburg or Antwerpen, to be cut. No cutting takes place in Kleinzee, therefore we didn't see any diamonds there!
  7. South Africa has a law that mining sites must be filled and restored after mining. This is done by filling the sand of one excavation in the previously exploited site, and then covering it with the saved top soil. Fast-growing plants are seeded to prevent erosion, and sometimes wind nets are put up to increase growth in this windy climate. The area is green 7 months later, but it will probably take much longer until the endemic flora and fauna is established again.

 


Other sights in the mining area
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After the diamond grinding building, the diamond mine aspects of the tour finished, and the second part followed: a visit to the biggest seal colony on this coast. It stretches out for more than 4.5 km, including 350 000 seals. Impressive sight, but also impressive stench. Luckily it was a windy day! In this area, we also saw lots of lichen formed like sponges - proof of the good air quality.

 


How to leave the mining area
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Leaving the area was the same as entering it, with the additional step of X-Ray. After passing several security doors, one person at a time is allowed into the x-ray room. It would be nice service to have a medical doctor on board, who could just check the pic for health issues... I wonder how workers and contractors handle x-rays - I wouldn't like daily or even weekly x-raying. Also the cameras were x-rayed, and the seals were checked.

The funny (or sad?) thing after the x-ray was a big black anti-HIV poster and a big box of De Beers branded condoms. I wondered whether the condoms themselves bear the De Beers logo ("A diamond is forever - HIV too") - or do De Beers add a diamond in each millionth packet, as a lucky draw? Unfortunately, I didn't dare to take one, with the other tourists (all very nice retired guys and gals) watching. Would have made a better curio than the one earplug I took out (lost the other one)!

So all in all, the diamond mine tour was an interesting sight for someone like me who had never seen it before, and well worth the 80 ZAR and the 90 min drive. It showed the technical aspects of mining, and living in a mining town - but without showing diamonds...



Last update:  01:21 09/04 2007
Kalahari Meerkats
Upington
Augrabies NP
Namaqualand
Naries - more flowers
Kleinzee diamond mine
Namibia's South, Orange
Fish River Canyon
Aus
Koichab Dunes
L├╝deritz
D707 scenic route
B├╝llsport & Naukluft
Windhoek & Waterberg
Outjo & Khowarib Gorge
Hoanib & Amspoort
Desert Elephants
Purros, Hoarusib & Khumib
Huab, Doros, Ugab
Erongo, Boshua, WDH
Travel facts
Gallery of this trip


Approaching Kleinzee




The dragline and me




Dragline lifting 73 tons




The hole dug by the dragline




The bedrock team




The gravel is ground




The gravel is washed




As close as it gets




Diamond concentrate




Kleinzee seal colony


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