May 2009

Doing well by doing good

Rockwell Diamonds’ social responsibility initiatives in South Africa

By P. Caulfield

The play park is the only dedicated recreational facility available for the 1,200 primary school children in the community.


Vancouver-based Rockwell Diamonds Inc. has three operating alluvial diamond mines in South Africa as well as an operation on care and maintenance and a pipeline of brownfield projects. Rockwell is notable not only for being the second-largest publicly listed diamond producer in South Africa, but also for its socially responsible programs in that country.

Headed by president and CEO John Bristow, Rockwell has four properties in Northern Cape Province: Holpan and Klipdam, which are some 70 kilometres northwest of Kimberley, the capital of the province, and Wouterspan and Saxendrift, which are about 160 kilometres southwest of Kimberley. Due to poor market conditions, Wouterspan is currently on care and maintenance.

Addressing a legacy of injustice

Years of legally sanctioned Apartheid have left a legacy of poverty and underdevelopment in South Africa. Until 1994, when Apartheid was replaced by a democratic legal and political system, mineral rights in South Africa were predominantly in the hands of large mining companies, largely owned and controlled by Whites. After 1994, the ownership of mineral rights became vested in the State. To acquire and hold such rights today, a mining company needs to have a Black empowerment partner, who must have a share of at least 26 per cent in the business and be comprised of a broad-based group, not a single individual.

These changes are part of a government program called Black Economic Empowerment (BEE), which was launched to redress the inequalities of Apartheid by providing previously disadvantaged non-White groups economic opportunities that were not available to them in the past.

Rockwell’s BEE partner is Africa Vanguard Resources (AVR), which is led by mining engineer Sandile Zungu. AVR holds 26 per cent of Rockwell’s prospecting and mining rights and the company holds the remaining 74 per cent.

Good works make good sense

Going beyond its government-stipulated obligations, Rockwell has developed a number of innovative programs that benefit its African mine-site employees, their families and the communities in which they live.

Bristow explained why Rockwell decided to undertake its program of good works. “It’s just the right thing to do,” he said. “It is part of our commitment to creating a better all-round environment in which we operate. I’ve had a long career in mining and it’s been good to me. It was time to give something back.”

In one such initiative, since 2007 Rockwell has operated a program that educates employees and their families about the dangers of HIV/AIDS and the benefits of self-protection. Led by Rockwell’s health and safety manager Iris Ross, it also provides counseling and, where possible, directs participants to appropriate screening and treatment.

“HIV/AIDS afflicts many South Africans,” said mineral resource manager, Glenn Norton. “About 20 per cent of the population is infected with the virus, and that includes Rockwell’s employees and the people in the communities in which they live.”

Norton admitted that it is difficult to gauge the results of the program so far.

“In South Africa, it was traditionally taboo to talk about things such as AIDS and sex, but attitudes are changing and there has been slow but steady progress towards making people more aware of the disease and its consequences,” he said. “There seems to have been a decrease in AIDS-related mortality in the past few years.”

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