AngloGold Ashanti has begun the sale of its final gold mine in South Africa, marking an end to an era of gold mining in the country.

Kelvin Dushnisky, the former Barrick Gold executive who became chief executive of AngloGold last year, said its Mponeng underground mine would be better owned by another company who could commit the capital needed to extend its life.

“We believe that under the right ownership, our South African assets offer a compelling long-term value proposition that may allow for an extension to Mponeng Mine’s current life,” Mr Dushnisky said.

The decision marks the end of AngloGold Ashanti’s roots in the South African gold industry. AngloGold was founded in 1998 through the consolidation of Anglo American’s gold mines in South Africa and later merged with Ashanti Goldfields of Ghana.

Gold was discovered on a Transvaal farm in South Africa in 1886, sparking a gold rush that helped to form the city of Johannesburg.

But after more than a century of mining, South Africa’s gold is still one of the world’s largest deposits but it has shrunk to less than 5 per cent of global production.

President Cyril Ramaphosa, whose ruling African National Congress was on course to regain power in national elections this week, has pledged to make mining a “sunrise” industry in South Africa again.

But gold miners are facing tough operating conditions due to the depth of mines such as Mponeng, as well as wage demands and unstable power supplies from Eskom, the cash-strapped state electricity utility.

At the end of last year nearly two-thirds of South Africa’s gold production was either marginal or lossmaking, according to the country’s minerals council.

In 2018 AngloGold Ashanti sold its Moab Khotsong mine in South Africa to Harmony Gold and its Kopanang Mine to Heaven-Sent SA Sunshine Investment.

Its remaining South African assets consist of a surface rock dump processing business, a mine waste retreatment operation, and the Mponeng mine. Mr Dushnisky said Mponeng had a remaining life of eight years and an ore base of 16.8m ounces of gold.

James Bell, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets, said there were a number of challenges to a sale of the South African assets, including getting the unions and government in agreement.

“In terms of timing it may be unlikely anything gets completed in 2019,” he said.

AngloGold Ashanti, which has mines in nine countries from Argentina to Australia and Brazil, also said on Thursday that its first-quarter gold production fell to 752,000 ounces from 824,000 ounces a year earlier.

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