In the late 1980s there was a buzz of excitement in the mining industry over a rich gold deposit on the northwestern edge of the Witwatersrand basin, now known as South Deep. Not only did it hold more than 81-million ounces of gold, but because of its unusual shape, which fans out like the pages of a book, it appeared to present the first genuine case for intensive mechanisation of an SA gold mine. Gold Fields, which took South Deep over in 2006 from the late Brett Kebble, has been unable to make it work — despite pouring R32bn into the mine over the past decade. And last week the company announced it would restructure the fully mechanised operation and cut almost a third of the workforce at the mine in a bid to staunch losses of R100m a month and, perhaps one day, recover some of its substantial investment. South Deep remains one of the largest gold deposits in the world — but profitability has eluded all who have tried to mine it. JCI’s Randfontein Estates and Western Areas gold m...

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