GOLD IS DISCOVERED

The first recorded discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand was made by Jan Gerrit Bantjes in June 1884. However discovery of the main gold reef must be attributed to George Harrison, whose findings on the farm Langlaagte were made in July 1886. Soon after open cast workings were being opened up along the full length of the main reef in the present district of Johannesburg.

The gold changed the face of the Transvaal. Before 1886 it had been a poor, struggling Boer republic but ten years later, it was the richest gold mining area in the world. As news of the gold find spread throughout South Africa and the rest of the world, men made their way to the Transvaal.

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Ships no longer passed South Africa

They walked, they rode on horse back, or they came by slow ox-wagon. Ships no longer passed South Africa on their way to Australia and New Zealand. Instead, boatloads of men arrived at ports and hurried to catch the next coach to the Transvaal, hoping to find the riches of their dreams.

Wherever people found gold, another little mining camp grew.

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Langlaagte became part of a big mining camp called Johannesburg, where many other mining camps had been set up. Soon Johannesburg became the biggest town in the Transvaal, bigger even than Pretoria, the capital.

 

Africans from every corner of the southern African subcontinent migrated to the city. Most Africans worked on the mines, completing six-and nine-month contracts before returning to their rural homes. Others settled permanently in the swelling city, carving out niches as rickshaw drivers, domestic workers, and washermen. By 1896 Johannesburg had become a city of 100,000 people.

 

Conceived in avarice, the young city nurtured every species of vice. Banks and boarding houses jostled for space with more than 500 saloons. Criminal syndicates with roots in New York City and London found fertile soil in Johannesburg. The predominantly male population provided a robust market for prostitution. “Ancient Ninevah and Babylon have been revived”, a visiting journalist wrote in 1913. “Johannesburg is their twentieth century prototype. It is a city of unbridled squalor and unfathomable squander.”

Conceived in avarice, the young city nurtured every species of vice. Banks and boarding houses jostled for space with more than 500 saloons. Criminal syndicates with roots in New York City and London found fertile soil in Johannesburg. The predominantly male population provided a robust market for prostitution. “Ancient Ninevah and Babylon have been revived”, a visiting journalist wrote in 1913. “Johannesburg is their twentieth century prototype. It is a city of unbridled squalor and unfathomable squander.”

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The amount of money needed to develop a mine was very expensive. Most mines were initially owned by investors who invested money from other countries, hoping to profit from the new South African gold mining industry.

Before long it became necessary to dig a lot deeper to reach the gold, even as much as a kilometre beneath the ground. This became known as deep-level mining.

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As a result of this ‘endless treasure of gold’, gold mining quickly became the biggest and most significant part of the economy and it continues to be a major contributor to the South African economy.