Africa is a major producer of gold, producing up to 30% of global production. Although South Africa is one of the global leaders in gold production, it also has the highest average production costs in the world. Coupled with labour problems, lowering grades as well as several mines reaching the end of their lives, it is not anticipated that South African production will increase in the future.
Although Zimbabwe has historically been a prominent gold producer in Africa, political and economic issues could cause production problems for local producers. Tanzania and Mali are rapidly becoming Africa's newest gold producers with several mines being commissioned or in final feasibility stages. Ghana is still a major gold producer in Africa. Other countries contribute steadily to Africa's gold output.
Gold mine production is centred on underground and open pit operations in Archaean age greenstone belts in Ghana, Tanzania, Burkina Faso, Cote de Ivoire and Zimbabwe. Nearly all of South Africa's production is centred on the Witwatersrand placer gold deposits, which are mined almost exclusively underground. Exploration efforts centred on West Africa as well as East Africa are concentrating on surficial weathered gold-bearing lateritic and saprolitic rock, which is very suitable for relatively low cost surface mining methods, including heap-leach gold extraction.
Much of the recent and ongoing success in tapping these areas' mineable gold reserves is simply due to the fact that low-grade (to 1.3 grams / tonne gold) near-surface (oxidised) ores can be recovered economically. A new challenge will be to economically recover low-grade sulphide ore by open pit and/or underground methods.