November 16, 2009
[efoods]The apparent bottom line in a paper published in the South African Journal of Science is that South Africa’s gold industry is on final deathwatch, despite claims of massive existing below-ground reserves. Chris Hartnady, research and technical director of Cape Town earth sciences consultancy Umvoto Africa, has found that South Africa’s Witwatersrand goldfields are around 95% exhausted, and anticipates that production rates should fall permanently below 100 tonnes a year within the coming decade.
Gold production from the Witwatersrand, the biggest known gold field in the world, peaked at around 1,000 tonnes in 1970 and has declined ever since. Hartnady says that while initially (1970-1975) the decline was “quite precipitous”, it has been interrupted by only short periods of slight trend reversal (1982-1984 and 1992-1993).
Leon Esterhuizen, a London-based specialist analyst at RBC Capital Markets, has reacted to the research by saying that “South African gold is dying — this is not new news”, but adds “that it may be dying faster than we currently believe is novel”. On the levels of reserves, Hartnady finds that the South African “residual gold reserve” after production through 2007 is only 2 948 tonnes, a little less than three times the 1970 production figure, and much less than 10% of the officially cited reserve.