Three big South African gold-mining companies lost a combined $543 million last year—and human deaths rose for the first time in a decade
JOHANNESBURG—South African gold miners have literally dug themselves into a hole, with the world’s deepest mines threatening the safety of workers and the companies’ ability to make money.
Powered for decades by the cheap labor of apartheid, the country’s deepest gold mines plunge almost 12,000 feet below the earth’s surface—and have provided nearly half the gold bullion and jewelry ever produced.
But as miners have dug ever deeper to retrieve what remains of the world’s largest gold deposits, they have faced an economic and moral conundrum: Gold at these depths is costlier and more dangerous to mine.
South Africa’s three largest gold miners by market capitalization reported collective losses of about $543 million last year, as global gold prices remain some 40% below their 2011 highs. Costs of mining an ounce of gold in South Africa are high compared with the global average. And the human toll is mounting, too.
Deaths in South African mines rose for the first time in a decade last year, climbing 21% to 88 from 73 a year earlier. So far in 2018, 65 workers have died, including 24 deaths at Sibanye Gold Ltd. , South Africa’s largest gold producer.
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