Gold: Its impact on South Africa

Alan Buss
University of Wyoming
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This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Reviewed Teaching Collection

This activity has received positive reviews in a peer review process involving five review categories. The five categories included in the process are

  • Scientific Accuracy
  • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
  • Pedagogic Effectiveness
  • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
  • Completeness of the ActivitySheet web page

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This page first made public: Dec 12, 2013



This case study is used in a junior-senior level, elective undergraduate geology course for majors and non-majors.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered:

Topographic and geologic map reading skills, construction of simple geologic cross-sections, basic quantitative reasoning skills, and general spatial visualization abilities.

How the activity is situated in the course:

This case study involves three parts, spread out over a three week period in the lab component of the course. Each part can stand alone. This is one of several such case studies used over the semester.

National or State Education Standards addressed by this activity?:


Content/concepts goals for this activity:

Part one: geology
a) discuss the mineral exploration techniques available for locating mineral deposits; b) review the metallic and mineral characteristics of gold; c) describe the types of gold deposits; d) use an understanding of gold's geology to detect potential deposits; and e) describe the physical geography, geology and mineral resources of South Africa, the world's major gold producer.
Part Two: Economics
a) review the types of mining used to extract gold; b) discuss gold ore processing techniques; c) examine the economics of gold; d) describe how the amount of gold in a mineral deposit is estimated; e) examine the formula to calculate the market value of a mineral deposit; f) look at South Africa's human geography and mineral resources; and f) discuss the impact of gold on South Africa's economy.
Part Three: Social
a) examine the external costs of mining on South African society; b) investigate the social and political impacts of changes in mining technology; and c) discuss how the indirect and direct costs of gold mining should be shared among the different groups in South Africa, e.g. industry, government and labor.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity:

1) formulating prospecting plans and carrying them out; 2) interpreting data to construct 3-diminsional geologic model; 3)proposing a mining plan based on the geology; 4) conduct numerical calculations to estimate deposit value; 5) synthesize ideas; and 6)consider multiple stakeholders' perspectives.

Other skills goals for this activity:

written report, oral presentations, working in small groups

Description of the activity/assignment

This case study places students in professional roles in organizations dealing with resource issues where they perform typical tasks. Whereas background content is provided via the Web, activities are done on paper. This case consists of three modules completed in successive lab sessions, focusing on gold mining in South Africa and its economic, political and social ramifications.

geology: Student groups, representing gold mining companies, are given company directives, topographic maps and sample analysis reporting forms. The directives instruct them to assess their map regions for gold deposits. Groups report on the results of a geochemical survey they conducted to identify potential gold deposits.

economics: Groups are given new company directives and geologic maps of the area previously studied. They perform an economic assessment of the gold deposit(s) in their area and recommend whether the company should proceed to production. Groups design and implement an exploratory drilling program, i.e. select drilling sites, methods and depth, and give the map to their instructor for coring. They are provided corresponding cores which they use to select stratigraphic intervals for geochemical analysis. Using deposit grade, volume and recovery factor, students calculate the market value of the deposit's recoverable gold. Comparing this value to projected production costs, groups recommend whether their company should proceed to production.

social: Groups are assigned new unique roles, e.g. mining company, miner's union, worker's rights NGO, to investigate the social consequences of mining, i.e., the role of mining technology on safety, job security and environmental impact.. In this scenario, the mining company is considering new technologies to offset the increasing cost of deeper mining. Based on their perspective, groups identify externalized costs; evaluate potential impacts on their group and establish a starting position for negotiations between stakeholders. The various groups then negotiate an agreement about which technology(ies) to adopt.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Oral and written reports, scored by rubrics, and completion of associated worksheets.

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Resource Type: Activities:Classroom Activity, Lab Activity
Grade Level: College Upper (15-16)