Witwatersrand Gold Rush

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Witwatersrand Gold Rush
Witwatersrand gold.png
Witwatersrand Basin and major goldfields
Location Witwatersrand Basin, Johannesburg, South Africa
OutcomeWorld's largest gold rush ever led to the eventual Boer defeat in the Second Boer War (1899-1902), the loss of Boer autonomy and self-government, and total British rule in South Africa

The Witwatersrand Gold Rush was a gold rush in 1886 that led to the establishment of Johannesburg, South Africa. It was a key part of the Mineral Revolution.

Gold rush new discovery of gold that brings an onrush of miners seeking their fortune

A gold rush is a new discovery of gold—sometimes accompanied by other precious metals and rare-earth minerals—that brings an onrush of miners seeking their fortune. Major gold rushes took place in the 19th century in Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Canada, South Africa and the United States, while smaller gold rushes took place elsewhere.

Johannesburg Place in Gauteng, South Africa

Johannesburg, informally known as Jozi or Jo'burg, is the largest city in South Africa and one of the 50 largest urban areas in the world. It is the provincial capital and largest city of Gauteng, which is the wealthiest province in South Africa. While Johannesburg is not one of South Africa's three capital cities, it is the seat of the Constitutional Court. The city is located in the mineral-rich Witwatersrand range of hills and is the centre of large-scale gold and diamond trade.

South Africa Republic in the southernmost part of Africa

South Africa, officially the Republic of South Africa (RSA), is the southernmost country in Africa. It is bounded to the south by 2,798 kilometres (1,739 mi) of coastline of Southern Africa stretching along the South Atlantic and Indian Oceans; to the north by the neighbouring countries of Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe; and to the east and northeast by Mozambique and Eswatini (Swaziland); and it surrounds the enclaved country of Lesotho. South Africa is the largest country in Southern Africa and the 25th-largest country in the world by land area and, with over 57 million people, is the world's 24th-most populous nation. It is the southernmost country on the mainland of the Old World or the Eastern Hemisphere. About 80 percent of South Africans are of Bantu ancestry, divided among a variety of ethnic groups speaking different African languages, nine of which have official status. The remaining population consists of Africa's largest communities of European, Asian (Indian), and multiracial (Coloured) ancestry.



There had always been rumours of a modern-day "El Dorado" in the folklore of the native tribes that roamed the plains of the South African highveld and in that of the gold miners who had come from all over the world to seek out their fortunes on the alluvial mines of Barberton and Pilgrim's Rest, in what is now known as the province of Mpumalanga.

El Dorado South American myth

El Dorado, originally El Hombre Dorado or El Rey Dorado, was the term used by the Spanish Empire to describe a mythical tribal chief (zipa) of the Muisca people, an indigenous people of the Altiplano Cundiboyacense of Colombia, who, as an initiation rite, covered himself with gold dust and submerged in Lake Guatavita. The legends surrounding El Dorado changed over time, as it went from being a man, to a city, to a kingdom, and then finally to an empire.

Folklore Legends, music, oral history, proverbs, jokes, popular beliefs, fairy tales, etc.

Folklore is the expressive body of culture shared by a particular group of people; it encompasses the traditions common to that culture, subculture or group. These include oral traditions such as tales, proverbs and jokes. They include material culture, ranging from traditional building styles to handmade toys common to the group. Folklore also includes customary lore, the forms and rituals of celebrations such as Christmas and weddings, folk dances and initiation rites. Each one of these, either singly or in combination, is considered a folklore artifact. Just as essential as the form, folklore also encompasses the transmission of these artifacts from one region to another or from one generation to the next. Folklore is not something one can typically gain in a formal school curriculum or study in the fine arts. Instead, these traditions are passed along informally from one individual to another either through verbal instruction or demonstration. The academic study of folklore is called folklore studies or folkloristics, and it can be explored at undergraduate, graduate and Ph.D. levels.

Highveld Natural region in South Africa

The Highveld is the portion of the South African inland plateau which has an altitude above roughly 1500 m, but below 2100 m, thus excluding the Lesotho mountain regions to the south-east of the Highveld. It is home to some of the country's most important commercial farming areas, as well as its largest concentration of metropolitan centres, especially the Gauteng conurbation, which accommodates one-third of South Africa's population.

But it was not until 1886 that the massive wealth of the Witwatersrand would be uncovered. Scientific studies have pointed to the fact that the "Golden Arc" which stretches from Johannesburg to Welkom was once a massive inland lake, and that silt and gold deposits from alluvial gold settled in the area to form the gold-rich deposits that South Africa is famous for.

Witwatersrand mountain range

The Witwatersrand is a 56-kilometre-long (35 mi), north-facing scarp in South Africa. It consists of a hard, erosion-resistant quartzite metamorphic rock, over which several north-flowing rivers form waterfalls, which account for the name Witwatersrand, meaning "ridge of white waters" in Afrikaans. This east-west-running scarp can be traced with only one short gap, from Bedfordview in the east, through Johannesburg and Roodepoort, to Krugersdorp in the west.

Welkom Place in Free State, South Africa

Welkom is the second-largest city in the Free State province of South Africa, located about 140 kilometres (90 mi) northeast of Bloemfontein, the provincial capital. Welkom is also known as Circle City, City Within A Garden, Mvela and Matjhabeng. The city's English name, Matjhabeng means 'where nations meet', derived from the migrant labour system, where people of various countries such as Lesotho, Malawi and Mozambique etc. met to work in the mines of the gold fields.

Silt is granular material of a size between sand and clay, whose mineral origin is quartz and feldspar. Silt may occur as a soil or as sediment mixed in suspension with water and soil in a body of water such as a river. It may also exist as soil deposited at the bottom of a water body, like mudflows from landslides. Silt has a moderate specific area with a typically non-sticky, plastic feel. Silt usually has a floury feel when dry, and a slippery feel when wet. Silt can be visually observed with a hand lens, exhibiting a sparkly appearance. It also can be felt by the tongue as granular when placed on the front teeth.


George Harrison Park George Harrison Park 04.jpg
George Harrison Park

The first discovery of gold in the region is recorded as being in 1852 in the Pardekraal farm [1] by J.H. Davis, an English miner. He sold £600 of gold to the Transvaal Treasury and was subsequently ordered to leave the country. Another find by Pieter Jacob Marais was recorded in 1853 on the Jukskei River, but was subject to similar secrecy. [2] Though there were smaller mining operations in the region, it wasn’t until 1884 and the subsequent 1886 discovery at Langlaagte that the Witwatersrand gold rush got under way in earnest. [3]

Explorer and prospector Jan Gerrit Bantjes  [ af ] (1840-1914) was the first and original discoverer of a Witwatersrand gold reef in June 1884 having prospected the area since the early 1880s, as well as co-operating the Kromdraai Gold Mine in 1883 to the NW of present-day Johannesburg together with his partner Johannes Stephanus Minnaar in an area known today as "The Cradle of Humankind". However, these were minor reefs, and today the general consensus falsely holds that credit for the discovery of the main gold reef must be attributed to George Harrison, whose findings on the farm Langlaagte were made in July 1886, either through accident or systematic prospecting. This at the time was a British attempt to give credit for the discovery to the Anglo sector in an attempt to justify claiming the Witwatersrand fields as British. This move was one of the factors leading to the Anglo Boer War of 1899-1902. Harrison declared his claim with the then-government of the Suid Afrikaanse Republiek (ZAR), and the area was pronounced open. His discovery is recorded in history with a monument where the original gold outcrop is believed to be located, and a park named in his honour. Harrison is believed to have sold his claim for less than 10 Pounds before leaving the area.[ citation needed ]

News of gold spread rapidly and reached Cecil Rhodes in Kimberley. Rhodes and his partner Robinson with a team of companions were curious and rode over 400 km to Bantjes' camp at Vogelstruisfontein and stayed with him for two nights near what would later become Roodepoort. Rhodes purchased the first batch of Witwatersrand gold from Bantjes for £3000. This purchase would be the first transaction of the newly formed company Consolidated Gold Fields of South Africa. [4]

Cecil Rhodes British businessman, mining magnate and politician in South Africa

Cecil John Rhodes was a British businessman, mining magnate and politician in southern Africa who served as Prime Minister of the Cape Colony from 1890 to 1896. An ardent believer in British imperialism, Rhodes and his British South Africa Company founded the southern African territory of Rhodesia, which the company named after him in 1895. South Africa's Rhodes University is also named after him. Rhodes set up the provisions of the Rhodes Scholarship, which is funded by his estate. He also put much effort towards his vision of a Cape to Cairo Railway through British territory.

Kimberley, Northern Cape Place in Northern Cape, South Africa

Kimberley is the capital and largest city of the Northern Cape Province of South Africa. It is located approximately 110 km east of the confluence of the Vaal and Orange Rivers. The city has considerable historical significance due to its diamond mining past and the siege during the Second Boer War. British businessmen Cecil Rhodes and Barney Barnato made their fortunes in Kimberley, and Rhodes established the De Beers diamond company in the early days of the mining town.

Roodepoort Place in Gauteng, South Africa

Roodepoort is a city in Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa. Formerly an independent municipality, Roodepoort became part of the Johannesburg municipality in the late 1990s, along with Randburg and Sandton. Johannesburg's most famous botanical garden, Witwatersrand National Botanical Gardens, is located in Roodepoort.

The world's largest gold rush ever had begun and South Africa would never be the same. News spread around the world and prospectors from Australia to California began arriving in masses and the first lanterns of a soon to be Johannesburg began flickering along dusty streets. For a number of years all went well, but then President Paul Kruger of the South African Republic (ZAR) began getting worried so many foreigners would soon outnumber the Boers, and the first of certain "measures" were put into place. Bantjes, whose father Jan Gerritze Bantjes had educated Kruger when he was a boy during the Great Trek, had discussions with Kruger regarding those "measures." One of them was to place heavy taxes on the sale of dynamite to the foreigners so as to slow the momentum. This only agitated the miners and gave the British another reason to make a grab for the gold fields and take the lot for themselves. The disastrous Jameson Raid followed which put Cecil Rhodes in the spotlight. The Jameson Raid was supported by Rhodes and led by Sir Leander Starr Jameson. Its intent was to overthrow the Transvaal government and turn the region into a British colony. There were 500 men who took part in the uprising; 21 were killed and many arrested, tried and sentenced. [5]

Founding of Johannesburg

It did not take long for fortune-seekers from all over the world to flock to the area, and soon what was a dusty mining village known as Ferreira's Camp was formalised into a settlement. Initially, the ZAR did not believe that the gold would last for long, and mapped out a small triangular piece of land to cram as many plots onto as possible. This is the reason why Johannesburg's central business district streets are so narrow. There is some dispute as to the origin of the name Johannesburg and to which Johannes, a common Dutch name, the city was named after. It is thought to be named after two state surveyors who were sent to choose an area for the layout of the new town, Johann Rissik and Christiaan Johannes Joubert. [6]

Within 10 years, the town was already the largest in South Africa, outstripping the growth of Cape Town, which was more than 200 years older. The gold rush saw massive development of Johannesburg and the Witwatersrand, and the area remains the prime metropolitan area of South Africa. One consequence of the gold rush was the construction of the first railway lines in this part of Africa. As a result of the rapid development of the goldfields on the Witwatersrand in the 1880s and the demand for coal by the growing industry, a concession was granted by the ZAR government to the Netherlands-South African Railway Company (NZASM) on July 20, 1888, to construct a 16 miles (26 kilometres) railway line from Johannesburg to Boksburg. The line was opened on March 17, 1890 with the first train being hauled by a 14 Tonner locomotive, became known as the "Randtram", even though it was actually a railway in every aspect and not singularly dedicated to tram traffic. This was the first working railway line in the Transvaal. [7] [8] [9] [10]

The discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand also created a super wealthy class of miners and industrialists known as Randlords. Many Randlords built large estates and mansions on the Parktown Ridge. [11]

Second Boer War

The Witwatersrand Gold Rush was a major contributing factor of the failed Jameson Raid of 1895 to 1896, and of the outbreak of the Second Boer War in 1899. Boer resentment over the large number of foreigners (Uitlanders) in the Witwatersrand led to heavy taxes and the denial of voting rights for the gold miners, and in response the Uitlanders and the British owners of the mines began to pressure the overthrow of the Boer government.

Primary sources

See also


  1. https://www.wits.ac.za/media/migration/files/EGRI%20274.pdf
  2. "History Of Gold In South Africa - In The Witwatersrand". The South Africa Guide. 2010-07-03. Retrieved 2016-11-23.
  3. "South-African-Mines". www.miningartifacts.org. Retrieved 2016-11-23.
  4. "Correspondence of Cecil John Rhodes (1)". www.bodley.ox.ac.uk. Retrieved 2016-11-23.
  5. Anonymous (2011-03-21). "Jameson Raid". www.sahistory.org.za. Retrieved 2016-11-23.
  6. "City of Johannesburg - How was Johannesburg named?". www.joburg.org.za. Retrieved 2016-11-23.
  7. Holland, D.F. (1971). Steam Locomotives of the South African Railways, Volume 1: 1859-1910 (1st ed.). Devon: Newton Abbott. pp. 109–112. ISBN   978-0-7153-5382-0.
  8. Espitalier, T.J.; Day, W.A.J. (October 1944). "The Locomotive in South Africa - A Brief History of Railway Development. Chapter IV - The N.Z.A.S.M.". South African Railways and Harbours Magazine: 761–764.
  9. The South African Railways - Historical Survey (Editor George Hart, Publisher Bill Hart, Sponsored by Dorbyl Ltd, Circa 1978)
  10. A South African Railway History
  11. "Restoring of one of Parktown's Greatest Mansions | The Heritage Portal". theheritageportal.co.za. Retrieved 2016-11-23.

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