Africa is a major producer of gold, producing up to 30% of global production. Although South Africa is one of the global leaders in gold production, it also has the highest average production costs in the world. Coupled with labour problems, lowering grades as well as several mines reaching the end of their lives, it is not anticipated that South African production will increase in the future.
Although Zimbabwe has historically been a prominent gold producer in Africa, political and economic issues could cause production problems for local producers. Tanzania and Mali are rapidly becoming Africa’s newest gold producers with several mines being commissioned or in final feasibility stages. Ghana is still a major gold producer in Africa. Other countries contribute steadily to Africa’s gold output.
Gold mine production is centred on underground and open pit operations in Archaean age greenstone belts in Ghana, Tanzania, Burkina Faso, Cote de Ivoire and Zimbabwe. Nearly all of South Africa’s production is centred on the Witwatersrand placer gold deposits, which are mined almost exclusively underground. Exploration efforts centred on West Africa as well as East Africa are concentrating on surficial weathered gold-bearing lateritic and saprolitic rock, which is very suitable for relatively low cost surface mining methods, including heap-leach gold extraction.
Much of the recent and ongoing success in tapping these areas’ mineable gold reserves is simply due to the fact that low-grade (to 1.3 grams / tonne gold) near-surface (oxidised) ores can be recovered economically. A new challenge will be to economically recover low-grade sulphide ore by open pit and/or underground methods.
South Africa holds 35% of global gold resources and exports 99% of gold output. Gold is the most important mining sector, contributing 27.4% in mineral revenues and employing 56% of the mine labour force.
South Africa’s gold production has been declining steadily, with an annual decrease of around 4% since 1990, and in 2001 production was 394 t, down from 2000’s 428 tonnes. Grades remained basically the same at around 5.1 g/t. Although production has been dropping fast, the industry has undergone some major changes to improve productivity and reduce costs. Evidence of this is shown by the dramatic decrease in working costs from a weighted average cost of over $US 300 / oz down to $US 246 / oz. The cost of production in the USA is $US 189 / oz and in Canada $US 169 / oz.
The last few years have seen some major restructuring of South Africa’s major gold producers with AngloGold, recently listed on the LSE and NYSE, and Gold Fields having become the countries major producers. Other major producers in South Africa are Harmony, Durban Roodepoort Deep, ARM Gold and Avgold.
Ghana is Africa’s second largest gold producer, producing just over 72t gold in 2001, down slightly from the previous year.
Zimbabwe produced 18t of gold in 2001, marking an ongoing decline in production as a result of political and social unrest in the country. The structure of the Zimbabwe gold mining industry comprises several small operations centered on central Zimbabwean Archaean greenstone terranes. Gold is Zimbabwe’s principal mined export.
As in Mali, Tanzania is rapidly becoming an emerging gold producer in Africa. Gold production doubled to 34 t in 2001, following the development of new mines by Barrick, Anglo Gold, Ashanti Gold and East African Gold Mines..
Guinea produces approximately 10 t gold each year, with production expected to rise slightly following expansions and development of new projects in the country.
Mali is rapidly becoming a major producer of gold with several new mines being developed by Anglogold and Randgold Resources. Mali produced 41 t of gold in 2001, up significantly from previous years. The majority of this production is sourced from 3 large scale open cast operations.
Mining Companies active
Several of the world’s largest mining corporations are active in African gold mining and development.
The newly merged gold producer Barrick – Homestake , one of the largest gold producing companies in the world, producing around 3.8 million ounces annually, has commissioned the Bulyanhulu mine in Tanzania, which began production in mid 2001. Initial production is estimated at 300 000 ounces / year, but should increase to full production at about 500 000 ounces / year. This project alone will contribute 10% extra gold to Barrick Homestake’s annual production.
AngloGold is active in South Africa, Namibia, Tanzania, Mali and Zimbabwe. Anglogold’s presence in Mali has increased with the go ahead to develop the Yatela deposit, Anglogold’s second gold mine in the country, after Sadiola.
Gold Fields is active in South Africa and Ghana with its new open pit operation, Tarkwa.
Placer Dome’s purchase of 50% of the South Deep project in South Africa, rated as one of the world’s largest undeveloped gold mines with 52 million ounces reserves, is being completed. Commercial production of the mine is expected in 2003.
Harmony Gold Mining Company is set to increase production to over 3 Moz per year after the acquisition of Randfontein Estates Gold Mines as well as Elandskraal Gold Mines in South Africa. Harmony has holdings in three countries, primarily in South Africa, Australia and a single producer in Canada, and operates a refinery in South Africa. Harmony and ARM have also acquired AngloGold’s Free State assets.
Avgold (730 000 oz) is primarily a South African producer with some of its operations producing from outside of the traditional Witwatersrand basin in the Barberton greenstone belt. Avgold’s Target project in the Free State is well under development and should begin full production in 2002.
Ashanti (1.7 million ounces in 2001) is one of Africa’s leading gold mining and exploration companies. It has four operational mines in Ghana and facilities in Zimbabwe, Guinea and Tanzania.
LonMin has a 32% interest in Ashanti, therefore enjoying 500 000 ounces / annum. Delta Gold’s (380 000 oz) 100% owned operation in Zimbabwe began production at end 1999 with a mine life of around five years. Operations have been suspended.
Through its two gold operations and dump retreatment operations, Rio Tinto Zimbabwe produces 10% of Zimbabwe’s annual gold production. From its gold operations globally, Rio Tinto produces 1.5 million ounces gold annually. Casmyn Mining has a single open pit project in Zimbabwe as well as other exploration interests in Zambia and elsewhere in Zimbabwe.
Barberton Gold CC, African Consolidated Resources Plc, AngloGold Ashanti Limited, Barrick Gold SA, Birim Goldfields Ghana Ltd, Centamin Egypt Limited, Central Rand Gold SA (Pty) Ltd, Centurion Gold Holdings, Crown Gold Recoveries, DRDGold, Dunkwa Continental Goldfields Ltd, Gold Fields Limited, Goldplat Plc, Great Basin Gold Ltd (South Africa), Great Basin Gold Ltd (South Africa), Harmony Gold Mining Company Limited, High River Gold Mines (West Africa) Ltd, Manica Minerals, Norange Mozambique, North Atlantic Resources SARL
Abascis, Abore, Abu Dabbab, Adola, Afema, Afrika Mashariki Gold Mine, Afrikaner Lease, Agbaou, Agnes, Ahafo, Akka, Akoumape, Akouta, Akrokeri, Akwatia, Alamoutala, Alberta, Alpha Anthracite, Amandelbult, Ambatovy Mine