major minerals, South African mines, gold prices, mineral products, armaments
The contribution of mining to GDP declined from 12.5 percent in 1987 to 8.7 percent in 1994, but the mining industry employs over 600,000 people and continues to dominate exports. Gold, platinum, uranium, and armaments (included in a joint “unclassified” category in official statistics) accounted for about 36 percent of exports in 1994; base metals for about 13 percent; diamonds and other precious stones for about 11 percent; and mineral products for about 9 percent. South Africa remains the world’s largest gold producer, but the industry faces long-term decline because of its high production costs and falling gold prices. These costs are primarily the result of the great depth of the South African mines. Other major minerals, in order of the value of total output, are coal, platinum-group metals, iron ore, copper, nickel, and manganese.
In the case of most minerals other than gold, South Africa has hardly scratched the surface of its huge deposits. The South African mining industry is one of the most technologically advanced in the world, and South Africans are the world’s foremost deep-level miners, exporting their expertise to many countries. Historically, the mining industry was built on the foundations of cheap black labor, but wages have improved substantially since the early 1970s. In 1970 about two-thirds of the labor force consisted of migrants from neighboring countries, but rising wages have enabled the internalization of the labor force, which is now two-thirds South African.
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