During his early years as a miner in SA, Joas Mahanuque spent six hours a day on his knees drilling for Impala Platinum Holdings. The dust-filled tunnels half a mile underground were too low for him to stand, and temperatures reached 40°C. Today, he has essentially the same job 2.5km beneath the surface for Gold Fields. But unlike most of the precious-metals miners in the country, Mahanuque sits comfortably atop a new seven-tonne vehicle, using a joystick to control an eight-foot drill as ventilated air blows behind him. "It’s not hard," he said while taking a break under the bright tunnel lights of South Deep, the country’s only fully mechanised underground gold mine. "You just sit and operate and make money." If only it was that easy for the rest of the once dominant South African gold industry. After more than a century as the world’s top producer, the country has slipped to number seven over the past decade. Mines are deep, labour intensive and are being developed with mostly dr...

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