Another video from our bloggers’ trip to South Africa.
In March 1886, nearly forty years after the California Gold Rush, legend has it that Australian gold miner George Harrison stumbled across a rocky outcrop of gold in what was then the Zuid Afrikaanse Republiek. Says Wikipedia: “Ironically, Harrison is believed to have sold his claim for less than 10 Pounds before leaving the area, and he was never heard from again.”
That 10-pound claim soon transformed into a mining village called Ferreira’s Camp, which today we call Johannesburg.
The above-earth portion of the gold reef (‘rand’ in Afrikaans, for which the South African currency was named after) discovered by Harrison has since become the most profitable source of gold ever found on earth. 40% of all gold mined on earth comes from this single reef.
And, as we discovered 3.5 kilometers below ground on our tour of the TauTona gold mine, that gold reef continues pretty far underground. Here’s a video of our tour:
The mine, in fact, is so deep that were it not for the ice cold air conditioning pumped down from above, the temperature would be around 55°C. When electricity outages hit South Africa last year the mine was forced to close down for nearly a week.
I was impressed by the obsessive focus on safety throughout the mine. Still, as John noted even before our trip, being a miner at TauTona remains a dangerous affair. (More than four people die in South African gold mines per week.) During the introductory presentation at the mine we were shown a graph of TauTona’s improving safety record over the past ten years. There was, however, a slight increase in deaths last year. A new part of the mine vulnerable to seismic activity was causing a flurry of ground fall and resulting deaths. The mine executives decided to cease mining there once the death rate reached a certain threshold. Still, I could picture in my mind someone coldly calculating the potential financial profits in one column and the loss of human life in the other.
We were told that, depending on the price of gold over the next couple years, AngloGold Ashanti plans on digging the TauTona Gold Mine even deeper – perhaps all the way to five kilometers beneath earth. The funny thing about economic crises is that they tend to be good for gold mines as investors hurry to exchange weak dollars for solid gold. While the rest of the world slumps, it’s boom time for gold towns like Battle Mountain, Nevada. So, as long as the global currency markets stay weak, expect TauTona Gold Mine to get deeper and deeper.