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Is gold a safe investment in Africa?

The country is not as dependent on gold as it was 20 years ago, but it still contributes a considerable amount to GDP.
Last modified: 3 May 2013 12:40

I am walking in a shopping mall in Johannesburg, admiring things on display in the shop windows and wishing I had more disposable income to spend. 

My friend and I walk past a jewellery store. 

"Why aren't you buying gold?"  he asks me, "the prices are reasonable and it's a good investment." 

I think about it for a moment. The thought had never even crossed my mind. 

I grew up with parents who believed putting your money in the bank so it gains interest is the way to go. When African currencies started depreciating and lifelong savings were wiped out overnight, friends I know started investing in property, ie land or houses. But buying gold as an investment is still a relatively new concept for some Africans. 

I glance at the prices in the jewellery store; they are apparently lower than they'd been in a while. 

Next to me a woman is fixing a ring and looking to buy some gold. She is a South African of Indian descent and she explains to me why gold is important in her community. She has two daughters and gold is often used in paying the dowry. 

She encourages me to invest in gold, rather than wait for someone to buy some for me. 

"But don't ever sell it," she advises me, "keep it. Prices may be low now but just you wait ... things will improve". 

But people in the gold mining sector are worried. Low prices is not good news for gold producing countries like South Africa, considered one of the largest. 

In the Carltonville area where some of the gold mines are, it is business as usual although labour unrest and high energy and production costs have resulted in shaft closures and threats of job cuts. 

The country is not as dependent on gold as it was twenty years ago, but it still contributes a considerable amount to the GDP. The billions of dollars earned over the years helped build some of the best infrastructure on the African continent.

Africa's economic power house cannot afford anymore job losses that will anger an already irate workforce.

But for those who can afford it, buying gold to keep rather than to sell seems to be the way to go.

I still have not invested in my piece of exquisite gold yet, but I would be lying if I said I was not doing the maths in my head and seriously considering it. 

But is it really a safe long term investment?