180214 Rock Drill miners at Goldfields South Deep mine,it is the deepest mine in South Africa 3km deep.Photo Simphiwe Mbokazi

Johannesburg - Gold Fields had appointed a team of Australian mine operators to beef up technical skills among employees as part of its bid to reach steady state output at South Deep by the end of 2017, chief executive Nick Holland said yesterday.

South Deep is Gold Fields’s only South African operation after it unbundled its ageing Beatrix mine and Kloof and Driefontein Complex when it formed Sibanye Gold last year.

The appointment of the Australian experts was crucial in the company’s efforts to ramp up to steady production of between 650 000 ounces and 700 000 ounces of gold a year by the end of 2017, Holland told journalists and analysts during a visit to the mine.

Infrastructure constraints had delayed the ramp-up by a year, the company said previously. The delay followed an external review begun in August last year, which was only completed earlier this month.

Holland said he was confident the mine would meet its revised target despite the delay.

“We are confident because we spent five years getting this mine to where it is today. What we learnt is to improve operator skills; the Australian team members are helping us in this regard. We also want to improve productivity,” he said.

Part of the problem was putting in new underground fleets and new workshops. The company said it would commission a new workshop later this year and address bottlenecks at its existing workshops.

In addition, the company has appointed Gary Mills as the new general manager at the mine. Mills, who has led mechanised mines in Australia, said the operation would focus on the basics of underground mining in its attempt to reach steady production.

“The transition to mechanised mining at South Deep needs tweaking,” Mills said.

The company has spent $4.6 billion (R49.9bn) on the mechanisation of South Deep. Between $150 million and $190m is expected to be spent from this year up until 2020 for the ramp up.

Last year, production at the mine grew by 12 percent to 302 100 ounces. South Deep employs 5 155 people and is expected to need 5 400 staff when it reaches full production.

South Deep is the subject of a probe by the US Securities Exchange Commission into the terms an empowerment deal in which Gold Fields gave stakes to politically connected people.

Gold Fields shares fell 3.36 percent to R43.44 yesterday.