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Gold Mining in South Africa

The known history of gold mining goes back as far as the 4th millennium BC. During the Bronze Age, the use of gold steadily increased as it was found to have very malleable and manipulative properties – mainly used for its aesthetic qualities. It wasn’t until 2600 BC that gold became associated with wealth, as the ancient king Tushratta boasted of Egypt that “gold was more plentiful than dirt.”

In more recent years, gold rushes around the world saw the establishment of regions such as California, Victoria in Australia and the Transvaal in South Africa by luring thousands of wealth seekers into built-over-night shanty towns. Most gold rushes weren’t sustained and many areas became abandoned as the disillusion of quick money wore off. This paved the way for the formalised gold mining sector to take control and regulate the gold mining in South Africa. Today, companies like Anglo American, Harmony Gold and BHP Billiton, etc. are established as industry managers of gold mining in South Africa.

Gold mining in South Africa typically involves methods such as panning, sluicing, dredging, hard rock mining, and by-product mining. For most effective gold mining in South Africa, the method used is hard rock mining, since reserves are typically fully encased in rock deep underground. The invention of industrial air cooling and air quality control systems saw gold mines reach unprecedented depths – the deepest being 3 900 metres.

This method is accompanied by chemical beneficiation, where chemicals, such as cyanide, or activated carbon are added to rough ore and processed – sometimes with heat, water, agitation, electro-winning etc. Modern gold beneficiation methods can produce gold of 99.9999% purity.

Making the refining process more thorough and economically viable, gold mining in South Africa projects, such as the ERGO Mines Joint Venture in Brakpan, will facilitate the re-processing of 1.7 billion tonnes of gold tailings to refine a further 15 million ounces of gold.

Over 50% of all gold reserves are found in South Africa, where the Witwatersrand holds the world’s largest gold reef deposit. In 2007, gold mining in South Africa employed over 240 000 people and accounted for R49 billion in foreign currency earnings.

Gold mining in South Africa had, by 1975, produced 40% of gold ever mined. However, by 2009, China affirmed its status as the world’s largest gold producer with a production of 324 tonnes, followed by Australia at 222.8, and South Africa with 219.8 tonnes (a decrease of 6%).

Gold mining in South Africa continues to be a major contributor to the economy and the establishment of the nation’s infrastructure. New mines, such as the Burnstone Mine, 80km south-east of Johannesburg with an estimated value of ZAR 3, 5 billion, continue to open. Typical of gold mining in South Africa, the project is estimated to have a lifespan of 25 years. The opening of other gold mining projects, such as the R1 billion Doornkop South Reef Mine – expected to deliver 82.8 tonnes of gold within a 20-year period – adds to the idea that gold mining in South Africa is still a viable and lucrative industry.

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