Diamond producer De Beers Group has reported the first output from Venetia underground operations in Limpopo, South Africa, built at a cost of $2.3bn (£1.78bn).

Construction of the underground mine is currently 70% complete. Over the coming years, construction and production ramp-up are due to take place simultaneously.

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The Venetia mine ceased open-pit mining operations last December after 30 years of production.

Its underground expansion began in 2012 and is claimed to be the largest single investment in decades in South Africa’s diamond mining sector.

The mine is expected to produce up to seven million tonnes of kimberlite ore annually, to be used in the production of nearly four million carats of diamonds per year. 

There are currently 4,300 employees at the underground project, which were primarily hired from the surrounding municipalities.

The company commissioned a $10.5m training centre in June 2021.

De Beers Group managed operations managing director Moses Madondo said: “The investment in taking the world-class Venetia Mine underground enhances De Beers Group’s global production for the long term and is an indication of our commitment to South Africa. Our incredible team of employees and contracting partners have pulled together fantastically to achieve this major milestone of first production from the underground operation.

“We look forward to seeing this high-performing team continue the good work as we ramp up production over the next few years, bringing profound benefits to our workforce, our host communities, commercial partners and South Africa as a whole.”

Earlier this month, the company and the Botswana Government signed a ten-year sales deal for Debswana’s rough diamond production until 2033.

The deal will eventually progress from offering Botswana 30% of De Beers’ diamond production in the country to 50%.