In 1999, industry provided approximately 30 percent of the GDP and employed 25 percent of the workforce.
MINING. South Africa has a natural competitive advantage in both mining and adding value to mined products thanks to its immense concentrations of reserves of important minerals, its low cost coal-based electricity supply, its excellent infrastructure, developed skills and technology base, and the entrepreneurial abilities of its people. South Africa's mineral wealth is found in its diverse and extensive geological formations. The unique Witwatersrand Basin contains a considerable portion of the world's gold reserves, as well as uranium, silver, pyrite, and osmiridium. It also yields some 98 percent of South Africa's gold output. The Bushveld Complex, a sill-like geological feature occupying about 50,000 square kilometers (19,300 square miles), contains more than half of the world's chrome ore and platinum-group metals (PGMs). It also contains vanadium, iron, titanium, copper, nickel, and fluorspar. South Africa holds the world's largest reserves of ores of manganese (possessing 80 percent of the total world reserves), chromium (68 percent), PGMs (56 percent), vanadium (45 percent), gold (39 percent), and alumino-silicates (37 percent). It is also the leading holder of reserves of ores of vermiculite, andalusite, zirconium, titanium, antimony, fluorspar, and phosphate rock.
As a result of this large reserve base, South Africa is the world's leading producer of PGMs, vanadium, and vermiculite, contributing about 50 percent of the world's total of these commodities. South Africa is also the largest world supplier of alumino-silicates, chrome ore, ferrochromium, and gold, for which its contribution ranges between 20 and 60 percent.
The domestic market for most of these minerals is relatively small, so South Africa's mineral industry is strongly export-oriented. For example, South Africa provides 96 percent of world exports of vermiculite, 76 percent of vanadium, 55 percent of alumino-silicates, 53 percent of ferrochromium, 47 percent of PGMs, 41 percent of chrome ore, and 27 percent of manganese ore and ferro-manganese. For these commodities, as well as for gold, it is also the world's largest exporter. The more notable imports into South Africa in 1997 were diamonds, precious metals, alumina, certain ferro-alloys, nickel, coking coal, phosphate rock, sulphur, magnesite, and magnesia. With some gold mines exceeding a depth of 3,000 meters (10,000 feet), the South African mining industry has become a world leader in developing deep-level mining technology.
In 1997, some 695 mines and quarries employed about 552,000 people, many of whom are workers from neighboring countries, representing about 10.5 percent of all workers in the non-agricultural, formal sectors of the economy. More than R18.1 million was paid out in wages. Over the past 5 years, South Africa's goldmines have been plagued by low productivity, diminishing reserves in some mines, and labor unrest. More than 25,000 workers have lost their jobs through retrenchments in the industry since 1987. On 8 July 1999, the gold price slumped to US$257.20 per ounce, the lowest in 20 years. During 1998, 370 miners were killed, and during 1997-98, 6,064 were injured in mine accidents. Through the Rand Mutual Assurance Company, the mining industry provides care and compensation in the case of accidents. The medical infrastructure of the industry includes group hospitals in all the mining areas, as well as clinics and stations on mines for emergency treatment. The Mine Health and Safety Act of 1996 was put into operation on 15 January 1997 to protect mine workers.