Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A Trip Down a Gold Mine.

I travelled down a gold mine once. A proper gold mine in South Africa. First we went down 2.3km, changing elevator half way because one elevator can't go that whole way. Once at the bottom, we got onto a little train that travelled 6km down a little tunnel to where one of the more profitable parts of the mine was, it produced 40 grams of gold per cubic tonne of rock. We saw the people working there and had a go at the drill ourselves.

Apart from it being very hot and humid, the most striking thing to me about the whole trip was not the depth and engineering achievement of all of it, but the people. This mine worked around the clock, 8000 people worked down there in a 24 hour period. They did very hard work, and very dangerous work. This affected them psychologically.

We travelled down the elevator with some miners, and with them was a guy who tried to kiss everyone in the lift. Like a crazy person. We were told that's not unusual, there are people that would try to beat you to death if it looks like you are going to touch one of the bolts that holds the elevator together.  Accidents happen, people lose friends, people are trapped underground in absolute dark for many hours at a time, sometimes they don't make it in the dark, or their friends don't

People of all races worked in the mine, they all got equal treatment based on their input, and they go through all this for a piece of metal which is hard to think of being worth that cost.  I'm sure conditions are a hundred times better for workers in these mines nowadays compared to decades ago, but they're still no picnic. As long as there's a worth, mines would offer an employment package that would make people choose to work in these conditions.  The more we're going to start valuing the human cost of mining, the more expensive these materials are going to get.  That is, until we innovate to get this work done with machines instead of humans.

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