DOWN under the South African earth, Australian accents are leading a drive to unlock the wealth of one of the world' s largest gold reserves.
"With the improved operating skills that we' ll get, particularly with the Australian team, we think we can make it," chief executive
He was referring to the South Deep target of full production of 700 000 ounces a year, which has been a moving one to the annoyance of investors, shifting from 2014 under previous owners to 2016 and now the end of 2017.
South Deep descends to |3 kilometres and
But mechanised mining is virgin territory in
South Deep, which sits atop a mammoth 40-million ounce reserve worth over
"The Australians know how to do mechanised mining but we have never really done it on our gold mines," said
"We probably have the most uneducated labour force in mining and those guys who do mechanised mining, half of them have college degrees," he said.
Major said one of the problems at South Deep was that it has had endless teams of consultants come through but no proper mining team with mechanised experience - until now.
"Now you have a mining team at South Deep, 15 guys who know each other and have done this before. It' s fair to say that if they can' t do it, no one can do it," he said.
A lot is at stake for
South Deep was supposed to be the jewel in
That split seemed obvious: Sibanye would focus on the labour-intensive operations, where men still work with hand-held drills, in
But South Deep' s moving production targets have raised concerns about a project that churned out around 300 000 ounces last year, less than half its full capacity target, and is costing almost
Engineering hassles aside, South Deep has also spawned legal problems with a deal to bring black investors into the operation the subject of a
The legal issues are for the lawyers. The Australians have come to apply their engineering expertise.
A system is being employed called "destress mining" in which horizontal cuts are made into the rock removing a lot of the "stress" that can cause rock bursts underground.
Mills explained that when the "destress" cuts are made, for example at 3kms down, it relieves the stress levels to the equivalent of what they would be at a depth of 1km - which among other things makes it much safer.
Ore can then be removed from around the cuts. At 2.4kms below the surface, visiting journalists watched as massive drills, operated from a hulking bulldozer-like machine, bore into the side of a tunnel - the first push into a new "destress" cut.
"It' s quite dynamic, it' s like a laboratory. This destress mining with mechanisation is the first in
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