Tshepong Mine, Harmony's largest gold producing mine, is situated in the Free State portion of the Witwatersrand Basin, east of Odendaalsrus and north of Welkom, South Africa. The Basal reef is a narrow tabular conglomerate and is the main gold bearing ore body. The strata strikes mainly in a northsouth direction with an average dip of 22 degrees. Currently mining takes place at depths of between 1 690m and 2 150m below surface. The Basal reef unit consists of a conglomerate ranging between a few and 30cm in thickness. Some 80–90% of the gold occurs in the lower portion of the conglomerate. Directly above the conglomerate is a quartzite placer unit, the Basal quartzite, which is a clean, hard competent rock and varies in thickness between 50cm and 200cm. The Basal unit is overlain by the Khaki shale which can vary between 30cm and 500cm in width. It is weak and incompetent khaki coloured chloritic shale.

A method of stoping, termed "undercut", is practiced in order to remove the lower 15–20cm of the gold rich strata. The method entails removing this portion along with some 70–80cm of footwall host rock which is a strong competent quartzite. The hard competent quartzite overlying the conglomerate is left in-situ to form a competent hangingwall which can stabilize and prevent exposure of the weak Khakishale. This method of extraction was developed through trial and error and has been used reasonably successfully since its inception in the early 1960's where the method was developed to extract the Basal reef at the Western Holdings Mines. Recently prospect drilling and a number of localised hangingwall failures indicated that the residual quartzite beam could be less than 60cm and in some instances as thin as 30cm in certain areas of the mine. The result of this is a less stable hangingwall which not only poses a safety risk to workers in these areas but also had the potential of locking up some 840 000 Tonnes of gold bearing ore. At the present gold price this amounts to revenue of approximately ZAR1.5 billion (U.S. $143 million).

This paper discusses the method of "undercut stoping" and existing practices in place at Tshepong Mine. It also explores new initiatives such as the use of a simple freely-supported elastic beam solution to perform back analysis, on-site data capturing of beam thickness and support geometries in order to develop empirical design charts and numerical modelling to assist in the verification of the empirical design method.

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