JOHANNESBURG, 4 February 2021 – South Africa, once the undisputed “king of gold”, is now tied with Sudan in eleventh place for global production, according to recently updated data.
As South Africa’s gold loses its shine, Ghana has claimed the crown of Africa’s leading gold producer.
Ghana closed 2020 as Africa’s top gold producer for a second consecutive year, with 140 tons of gold, according to the estimates published Tuesday by the United States Geological Survey.
South Africa’s production fell 14 percent from 105 tons in 2019 to 90 tons in 2020, according to the Survey.
Sudan tied with South Africa in eleventh position along with Uzbekistan.
In addition to Ghana and South Africa, the list of the Black Continent’s top five gold producers is completed by Sudan (tied with South Africa for second position), with Mali ranked fourth and Burkina Faso in fifth position.
South Africa’s drop in production has been rapid. Only a decade ago, the Rainbow Nation’s gold production stood at 190 tons.
At the time, Ghana produced only about half of South Africa’s output, and newcomers, Sudan, was not even a gold producer yet.
Ghana and South Africa were the only African countries in the top ten global producers of gold in 2019, ranked seventh and eighth respectively.
In 2020, Ghana maintained its seventh rank while South Africa off of the top ten to eleventh position.
Ghana is looking to significantly expand production by 2023.
The former Gold Coast (as Ghana was called under British colonization), is betting on AngloGold’s plans to reopen its Obuasi mine project this year, following its closure in 2014.
AngloGold expects to have the mine fully operational in another 30 months.
Last month, Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo said the total investment will be $1.6 billion, covering the expected 22-year lifespan of the mine.
Ghana is also counting on decades of failed efforts to reform the artisanal gold mining sector to yield fruit over the next few years.
The fall in South Africa’s production has been blamed on a lack of new investments, rising costs, lower grades and the tough job of keeping some of the world’s deepest mines running at a competitive level.
The drop in production is definitely not due to a fall in the price of gold.
In 2020, gold prices rose by about 45 percent in rant terms, according to an average price published this week by the Minerals Council.
“In the absence of a structural solution to the electricity crisis in South Africa, the investment prospects of the sector are expected to remain bleak,” the Council said in its projections.
Last July, Kevin Mileham, opposition spokesperson for energy and natural resources, told the South African parliament that mining was dying “not because the mineral resources are running out, but because of government ineptitude, poor policy choices and militant trade unions.”
His remarks were in response to claims by Gwede Mantashe, South Africa’s minister for natural resources and energy, that the country remains a highly attractive destination for mining.
Mantashe said there were 61 prospective mining projects in the pipeline with an investment value of more than $7.7 billion and a potential of creating up to 32,000 jobs.
After more than a century of mining gold in South Africa, the country’s biggest producer, AngloGod, sold its assets last year to its rival, Harmony Gold, and exited the country all together.
South African gold producers have only recorded a positive annual growth in production of gold in two of the past 20 years, according to Statistics South Africa.
In 2018, the country was producing 83 percent less gold than it did in 1980.
Still, South Africa has some of the world’s biggest reserves in gold, platinum and coal, according to estimates published by the US Geological Survey.
The country has the world’s second-largest reserves of gold, according to the Survey.
The fall in production has drastically shrunk mining’s contribution to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).
The share of South Africa’s GDP accredited to mining was a mere 7.2 percent in 2017, compared to 21 percent of GDP in 1970.
Mining accounts for 29 percent of South Africa’s exports and provides employment to over 464,000 people who support 4.5 million dependents, according to the country’s Minerals Council
Gold performs critical functions in computers, communications equipment, spacecraft, jet aircraft engines, and a host of other products.
By the way, China in 2020 topped world production of bullion, putting out four times the gold produced by South Africa.