For most of the last century and the first few years of this one, South Africa was by far the world's largest gold producer, but production has been dwindling steadily since the 1970s as some of the biggest mines have aged, old mines have closed and grades are dipping. This process shows no evidence of slowing - indeed it may be accelerating, compounded by electrical infrastructure problems across the country and much stricter investigations into mine accidents and fatalities which has led to mines being closed for several days while such adverse events are examined by the authorities.Last year, South Africa fell from being the world's largest producer to number three - behind China and the U.S.A. - but some thought it might recover its position given all the mines were shut down due to power shortages for a few days during the first quarter - and electricity has effectively been rationed to around 90% since.But despite the severe production cut in Q1 2008 because of the power cuts, Q1 2009 mined gold output still fell even further to a level which suggests full year output this year could be as low as 200 tonnes as against 220 tonnes a year ago, which itself was the lowest level since 1922.The first quarter gold output figure was 49,713.6 kg, down over 10% on the fourth quarter of 2008 and still 4.8% below that of the same quarter a year ago - the one which was affected most severely by the power outages. There seems to be little out there to arrest the decline as mines continue to deplete - and even the relatively high gold price is no saviour here. Higher gold prices prompt many of the mines to work lower grade material, as it becomes profitable to mine, and thus prolong the mine life. But unless there is a corresponding increase in mill throughput - which in most cases is not possible - then overall production will fall as a result.