Gold Mining in Barberton
Barberton is both the site of South Africa’s first gold discovery, as well as its first gold mine. And today, gold mining in Barberton is still a valuable centre of high-quality product, even after a century of sustained mining.
This Lowveld town in Mpumalanga Province lays approximately 40 km from Mbombela, and 360 km from Johannesburg.
The town was established in 1884 upon discovering the presence of gold in the area, and the settlement developed quickly owing to the gold rush that followed. Barberton became a centre of rapid development around the mining industry, with the then-Transvaal’s first Stock Exchange being built in 1887, until the later discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand. This marked the end of widespread small-scale mining, with only the town’s larger mines remaining in operation.
Today, mines in Barberton remain as some of the oldest and highest grade mines in the world.
The Barberton area is charecterised by high grade gold-bearing reefs that have seen sustained mining for over 100 years. The Barberton Greenstone Belt has produced approximately 11 Moz of gold since gold was discovered here, and Barberton Mines has produced more than 75% of the total production.
The gold deposits in Barberton are known for their nugget-like properties, due to the presence of free gold. They are characterised by discrete, high-grade shear-zone hosted vein and lode deposits found in flexures in the regional dip and strike of major shear zones or faults. Today Barberton features both surface and underground mining projects.
Located in the Barberton Greenstone Belt – where some of the oldest rocks on the planet are exposed – Barberton Mines is a low-cost, high-grade underground operation comprising the Fairview, New Consort and Sheba Mines.
Sheba Mine is one of the oldest and richest working gold mines in the world, while Fairview Mine is the birthplace of BIOX® (Biological Oxidation), an environmentally friendly process of releasing the gold from the sulphide that surrounds the gold, using organisms to perform this process naturally. It serves as the training facility for all BIOX® plants globally. Fairview Mine produces almost half of the gold mined at the Barberton Mines complex.
Barberton Mines’ have current Mineral Reserves of 1.4 Moz., producing gold at 5.65 g/t, with an annual capacity up to 80 000 oz./annum and a life-of-mine of 20 years for the current known Mineral Resources.
Barberton Tailings Retreatment Plant
The low-cost, high-grade Barberton Tailings Retreatment Plant, operated by Pan African Resources, extracts gold from historically accumulated tailings, producing up to 25 000 oz. per annum at an excellent cash cost of US$ 552/oz. The plant uses a Carbon in Leach circuit with electro-winning and smelting to produce a saleable product. It has a Mineral Reserve of 500 000 oz. of gold, with a forecast life-of-mine of 9 years.
The plant, together with the Elikhulu Tailings Retreatment Plant at Evander Gold Mine, which achieved first gold pour in August 2018, generate low-cost, low-risk ounces to add to Pan African Resources’ production profile. The Elikhulu plant can process up to 75 000 oz. of gold per annum, with Mineral Reserves of 170.6 Mt containing 1.5 Moz. of gold, at a cash cost of US$ 555/oz.
The Importance of Tailings Retreatment
Decreasing accessibility of high-grade ore, the lack of new mine discoveries, combined with significant improvements to the efficiency of gold beneficiation technologies, mean the tailings produced by historically mined deposits represent a rich, easily accessible source of material.
Both age and scale are important factors in deciding whether tailings are suitable for retreatment. Barberton satisfies both criteria. With rich, high-quality mining deposits having been mined for over a century, Barberton has proven to be a profitable location for tailings retreatment.
The low-cost, high-grade tailings retreatment plants are helping Pan African Resources reinforce its market position as one of South Africa’s lowest-cost gold mining companies. 46.5% of the group’s production is now from these low-cost, environmentally friendly surface tailings operations.
What Mining Method is Used to Mine Gold in Barberton?
The mining methods used to mine gold at Barberton Mines’ underground operations are through a semi-mechanised cut and fill and room and stick method. Approximately 17% of the gold in the Barberton Mines is also recovered through sweeping and vamping focusing on worked-out areas and mining high-grade pillars . Barberton Mines’ utilises three processing circuits to process varied forms of gold-bearing material:
• Free milling/gravity recovery circuit
• Carbon in leach cyanidation circuit
• BIOX® with a carbon in pulp, elution and regeneration circuit
Through using the BIOX® gold extraction process, an environmentally friendly method of processing using bacterial oxidation to release gold from sulphide ore, the mines can lower their environmental footprint.
For proofing the down-dip extent of ore bodies at Barberton Mines, Pan African Resources’ strategy entails deep drilling within 300 m of the current mining horizon down-dip. Then, iInfill drilling of 30 x 30 m is conducted for five years following proofing, which enables the company to effectively de-risk their strategic approach.
Historical facts about gold mining in Barberton
• South Africa’s first alluvial gold was found in Barberton in 1874 by gold prospector Tom McLachlan
• Four of the mines in Barberton (Agnes, New Consort, Sheba, and Fairview) have been in production for more than 100 years. 11 Moz have been produced by the mines in Barberton, of which more than 75% was produced by the Barberton Mines’ complex.
• The Barberton Gold Rush began in the early-mid 1880s and the town hosted the the-then Transvaal’s first stock exchange in 1887
• Mining at Sheba Mine began with the founding of Sheba Reef Gold Mining Company in 1885
• Gold mining in Barberton predates the mining of the Witwatersrand
• The presence of rock art in the caves surrounding the area of Barberton suggest the area was inhabited by the San at one time
Looking to Invest in Gold?
Pan African Resources’ gold deposits in Barberton remain important assets, and the over- 100 000 oz. that is produced from Barberton Mines’ and the BTRP annually is done efficiently, safely and at a competitive cash cost. Pan African Resources has leveraged these assets to entrench itself as one of the lowest-cost gold miners in South Africa.
Combined with its other strategic assets at Evander, the company possesses a diverse, profitable and growing gold mining portfolio. The start of production at the Elikhulu Tailings Retreatment Plant in August 2018 coincided with the beginning of the yellow metal’s steady ascent in value that continues today.
In 2019, Pan African Resources produced 171 706 oz. of gold (up from 111 879 oz. in 2018), generating revenue of US$ 217.4 million, with all-in sustaining costs per ounce improving to US$ 988/oz. (2018: US$ 1 358/oz.).