In the second half of 2007, South Africa was overtaken by China for the first time, and China is now the world’s biggest producer. Indeed South African production has declined at some 5.6 percent per annum for the last decade. Similarly, Australia, which had been on an upward trajectory for much of the 1990s, has found its output slipping recently.
However, gold remains vital to the South African economy, still providing employment to some 160,000 people, according to South Africa’s Chamber of Mines. As to how many people further depend on gold mining—that is a rather more difficult question. It is thought that there are some 5 million dependents of 458,600 employees in all types of mining—a ratio of nearly 11 to 1. Generally the figure is muddled by multiple marriages, which means that the overall number is anywhere between 5 and 12 dependents for each miner. Realistically then, there are around 1,500,000 people who survive because of wages from the South African gold mining industry.
Unsurprisingly, similar to production figures, employment has been falling at roughly 8 percent per annum on average for the last five years. To put this into perspective, the peak was reached in 1987 when Gold in South Africa reported that 530,622 were employed. Gold is the country’s second largest export earner after platinum group metals
So exactly what was produced by which country?
COUNTRY 2007 PRODUCTION (IN TONNES)
South Africa 269.9
United States 239.5
The leading companies that have been extracting the metal on a worldwide basis are
MINING COMPANIES 2007 PRODUCTION (TONNES)
Barrick Gold 250.7
AngloGold Ashanti 170.4
Newmont Mining 165.6
Gold Fields 122.9
Freeport McMoRan 71.6
The romantic notion of gold mining is that the metal is found in glittering lumps. However, the truth is considerably less exciting, with companies forced to move enormous quantities of material to extract the mineral.
The two main types of mining are open pit and underground, with the former being more prevalent in North America and Australia and the latter predominant in South Africa. However, some mines start off as open pit when the ore is relatively easy to access before switching to underground as the mine matures.
Gold deposits have been worked for many thousands of years— with some evidence to suggest that the Egyptians were mining underground as long ago as 2000 B.C., with rivers being “plundered” for gold nuggets even earlier. In essence little has changed over the last few thousand years with underground and open pit being the major forms of mining, it is simply the scale and technology used, which are beyond all recognition.