Witwatersrand Gold Rush
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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.
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.
Explorer and prospector Jan Gerritze Bantjes was the first and original discoverer of the Witwatersrand gold reef having prospected the area since the early 1880s as well as operating the Kromdraai Gold Mine from 1881 to the NW of present day Johannesburg. For many years there was confusion around the first pioneers of the gold industry, those early days of rough and tumble in the gold rush as several later discoverers of new reefs attempted to claim discovery for themselves. As the story went, it was believed that on a Sunday in March 1886 an Australian wanderer, George Harrison, stumbled across a rocky outcrop of the main gold-bearing reef. He 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. Ironically, Harrison is believed to have sold his claim for less than 10 Pounds before leaving the area, and he was never heard from again. Prospecting and mining was not his true leaning and it was Bantjes who should have had a monument/park built in his honor instead. This misrepresentation highlights the then British/Dutch animosity toward one another after the Anglo Boer War of 1899-1902 where the winner takes all. Two opposing nations were vying for victory within the same borders.
Know today as George Harrison Park, the site of the discovery was declared a national monument in 1944.
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.
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. The discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand also created a super wealthy class of miners and industrialists known as Randlords.
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.
- Tabitha Jackson: The Boer War. London: Channel 4 Books, 1999.
- The Greatest Discovery of them all, heritageportal.co.za, 2013
- The Johannesburg Gold Fields, The Baldwin Project
- The Rand, West Gippsland Gazette, June 21, 1904
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