Dealing separately with each section of the mining market, the South African is incomparably the most attractive both to the speculator and the investor. In the South African I include the Rand and Rhodesia, and of the two the former is by far and away the superior. One can invest in a leading Rand mine with as much safety as and certainly with more profit than in many industrial ventures, whilst as speculations I consider them far more attractive, than American Rails, especially after our bitter experiences of late, which do not augur promisingly for the future. Rand mining has now settled down into a solid, permanent, safe industry, and as soon as the war is over and the country is hereafter blest with good government, it will inaugurate for the industry an era more brilliant than it has yet enjoyed. In the early days there was a great deal of dishonesty connected with it But this is an inevitable experience of the early days of all new gold-fields and therefore the Rand is not to be singled out as exceptional in that respect. There may even now be not a little dishonesty connected with it here and there; but there is less temptation to resort to it, and less scope for it than in any other gold-field in the world. At any rate, even with dishonesty, we have been spared those scandals which have disgraced West Australian mining, and the leading companies have managed to pay regular and enormous dividends. Here Nature is not so erratic as she is elsewhere. Here we come upon her in one of her most settled moods, and though now and then she disappoints our faith in her, it is but seldom, and she often makes up for it in other ways. The formation in which the gold occurs - which is known as the banket formation - is wonderfully regular and uniform, so regular, indeed, that we can in the majority of cases estimate with great nicety the lives of the mines, an advantage we should seek in vain elsewhere.
It is because gold formations are, for the most part, so erratic and unreliable that gold-mining is so speculative and risky. We cannot estimate, with anything approaching accuracy, the life of the average mine, and therefore we have to depend a great deal upon guesswork. Rand mining, therefore, is unique in this respect - an inestimable exception - and hence this, of itself, greatly minimizes the risks that we run. We can calculate the minimum life of the majority of the mines, and the minimum profits they are likely to earn during their existence. On the Rand, too, the science of mining and of metallurgy has been carried nearer to perfection than in any gold-field elsewhere. Here may be seen the most modern machinery, and here, too, we find the most eminent engineers. The mines are not managed as in most other gold-fields - by inexperienced men, by those who know nothing either of the theory or practice of mining. The best men are put in the positions for which they are fitted, and the result has been a measure of success of which no other gold-field can boast. There is plenty of room for improvement yet. Science has not come to a dead stop on the assumption that it has conquered everything. But we may feel sure that the Rand will be the first to benefit from any scientific invention, and therefore the progress of science will mean the greater prosperity of the Rand. Here we have a gold-field where the ore is of low yield - the average being only 8 to 10 dwt. to the ton - and yet it has attained to a success with which no other gold-field, where ore going several ounces to the ton is common, can compare. And it is only yet in its infancy. It will continue to produce gold in great quantities generations hence, and therefore the wideawake speculator and investor should seek their opportunities here before they seek them elsewhere.
The famous Witwatersrand Gold-field was discovered some thirteen years ago, in 1887, although prior to that prospectors had found gold in outside districts, of which we hear very little in these days, but which may possibly come forward more prominently in the future. In the first year of its discovery it turned out 23,125 oz. of gold, of a value of £81,022, and since then the output has been:
1900 (3 months)
The above table will show how rapidly and greatly the output has grown since the field was discovered, and it gives us some idea of the progress we may expect in the future, especially when all the deep levels are in full work, and when some of the lower-grade mines are opened up. In a few years' time we shall see an annual production totalling £20,000,000, and eventually £25,000,000, and even the latter figure may be increased before the field is exhausted. And this from a low-grade field is marvellous.
The wonderful success attained by the Rand is due in a principal measure to the cyanide process, a process that has revolutionized gold-mining all over the world. In the early days only the richest ore was worked, and the poorer was thrown away, whilst the tailings, which are now the main source of profit, were regarded as valueless. But the cyanide process proved that the tailings could be treated profitably, so that instead of only 60 or 70 per cent. of the gold being extracted from the ore, 90 per cent. and over is now extracted, whilst in the future we shall probably see even more successful extraction than this, which will mean, of course, the earning of bigger profits. The profits will also be increased by greater improvement in ore-sorting, which was being extended rapidly before the outbreak of the war, and which in the future will be practised in nearly every mine. The Wit-watersrand reefs, besides being low in yield, are for the most part very thin, averaging something like 12 to 24 inches thick. This necessitates, in order to get a good stoping width, the blasting down of a considerable portion of valueless country rock, which is sent to the mill. This, of course, greatly reduces the yield per ton, and makes the reef appear poorer than it really is, and it might even make a fairly rich mine unpayable. Therefore it is essential that when the ore is sent to the surface some system should be devised whereby this waste rock should be sorted out from the valuable ore before the latter is sent to the mill. All kinds of machinery have been invented to help in this work, and it looks as if the problem has at last been solved. At many mines there have been erected large revolving tables and belts, over which the rock slowly revolves, whilst streams of water play upon it to show to the sorters which is waste rock and which is reef. Where this system has been introduced we have found the yields to he greater and the profits to increase in proportion. But there are undoubtedly some managers who are opposed to it, for they say that it increases the working expenses, and there is a competition between them to reduce these to the lowest possible point. It seems as if this prejudice will be overcome, however, and if so shareholders will benefit greatly. Perhaps it would be as well for shareholders to interest themselves in this question, and insist upon improvements in ore-sorting being adopted, and I throw out the suggestion as one worthy of consideration.