South Africa's gold production fell by 15.6% to 52,228kg  (1.68 million ounces) in the first quarter of 2008 on fourth quarter 2007 as the sector experienced a power shutdown in January and battled with lower  electricity supply during the rest of the quarter.

The Chamber of Mines said the rate of gold decline on a year-on-year basis was 16.8% in the first quarter, after the Chamber had warned that a 15-20% decline in production was probable due to the lower power supply.

Although power supply to certain mines were increased from 90% to 95% from 14 March as it became clear that some mines were having difficulty with operating at only 90% of their normal electricity use, the increase to 95% was only granted to some operations.

The Chamber reiterated that the gold mining industry accounted for R40 billion ($5.19bn) or 7.5% of South Africa's merchandise exports and employed 168,860 people in 2007.

It said it was vital that the events of January that saw key mines closing down for a couple of days was not repeated and that a more strategic approach to the electricity challenge was followed in future.

South African state power utility Eskom cancelled a briefing on its power plans for winter season in the country today.

The Chamber of Mines could not yet comment on production expected in the next quarter.