December 18, 2013
A half-dozen unemployed workers from the Blyvooruitzicht gold mine southwest of Johannesburg finish off the last scraps of a slaughtered cow in the searing October heat. Since losing their jobs in August, meals have become much less predictable.
The men stand near a small wood fire as the sun shines off a hill of extracted earth, in sight of a housing block that was supposed to be vacated. One holds a jaw bone over the flame, nibbles the meat off, and tosses the rest into a rusty barrel. What’s left of the carcass with its entrails spilling out is starting to dry at their feet.
The scene, resembling something from an apocalypse film out of Hollywood, is an extreme example of the impact gold’s 25 percent drop this year may have on towns around the world that are dependent on the precious metal. Mining companies have announced plans to shutter mines or reduce operations from Nevada and Peru to Papua New Guinea in the Pacific Ocean, as gold heads toward its first annual loss in 13 years.