Anglo Gold Ashanti, which owns Mponeng, is proud of what they've achieved here. We may have gotten a sanitized tour, but they really do appear to stick to their motto of "safety first." I suppose they have to. When you've got 5,000 people working deep underground every day, you really have to have some systems in place. Things have come a long way from the dark days of South African mining, when 500 miners were killed every year.
And up top when the shift was over, we took a tour of the barrack block where most of the miners live. They get a bed, food and free health care. When you consider that one in five miners is HIV positive, free anti-retrovirals must cost Anglo Gold a lot of money.
By our Western standards, it doesn't seem like a great deal. Up to $800 a month and a bed in a barrack block. But for Southern Africa, where there aren't a lot of options and wages are low, this ain't half bad. Every miner we spoke to claimed to enjoy his job. Every one except Elvis, the local union rep and self-proclaimed Communist. "No one likes working underground," he told me. "But we have no choice."
Just before we left, Mponeng's manager arrived back from a business meeting in Johannesburg. I got the impression he'd rather be getting his hands dirty than glad handing at the local Elks Club. Randell Randemann started out 19 years ago as a miner down in the pit. Now he's the boss. Is it the hardest job in the world? I asked him. "I think it's going to rank right up there, yes," he told me with a hint of pride.
This year his miners will bring $450 million of gold to the surface. Randell has got to be tough to keep this place working, to keep it profitable and to keep it safe. The fact that he was once a miner really impressed me.
"Now I won't expect somebody to do stuff which I know is impossible," he told me. "I can expect them to do what I have done before."