In 2011, South Africa was officially named the world’s 5th largest gold producer, home to 7 of the 13 leading gold mines. For many years, until as recently as 2007, South Africa was the world’s top gold producer. However, due to the incredibly high cost of production (we have the highest mining costs out of all major producing areas), its ranking has dropped.
The discovery of extensive, high-quality gold deposits literally transformed the Transvaal from what was then a struggling Republic into one of the richest gold mining areas in the world. This a mere 10 years after the precious metal was firstdiscovered on a farm called Langlaagte in 1886. Gold production in South Africa leaped from 0% in 1886 to 23 % of the world’s total output in 1896. By 1898 production had exceeded that of the USA and now, more than 100 years later it remains the basis of our economy.Today, gold coins, rare coins and Krugerrands minted in South Africa are among the most popular collectibles for numismatists and serious coin investors worldwide.
To give you an idea of just how rapidly the industry has grown, the table below (via www.sahistory.org.za) shows the percentage of the world’s gold produced in the Transvaal from 1895-1940
YEAR VALUE (POUNDS) TRANSVAAL (%)
1895 40843000 21,0
1900 52312000 2,8
1905 77756000 26,8
1910 93332000 34,3
1915 97218000 39,7
1920 69739000 49,7
1925 80817000 50,4
1935 131680000 34,8
1940 173354000 34,4
Although gold was by no means a new discovery in South Africa, prior to 1886 it had only been found in small quantities, and mainly by European prospectors. It was the accidental discovery of what is now known as ‘the Great Rand Reef’, by a man called George Harrison, which directly led to the ‘Witwatersrand Gold Rush’. As soon as the land was declared ‘open’, prospectors flooded the area and camps were quickly set up at each new spot where gold was found. Before long, these individual camps formed a dusty mining village, which soon became known as Johannesburg. Within a matter of years this new town was even bigger than the state capital, Pretoria. Interestingly, and perhaps rather ironically, Harrison is thought to have sold his original gold claim for a meagre 10 pounds, before vanishing from the area never to be seen again!
Scientific studies have since revealed that the Witwatersrand (also referred to as the ‘Golden Arc’) was once a massive inland lake, where silt and gold deposits from alluvial gold settled. In addition, archaeological excavations in the area have shown that gold was already mined and smelted in much earlier times. Gold artefacts and tokens, likelyused for personal adornment and bartering, have been excavated from sites in the Limpopo, Klipwal and Thulamala.
The Langlaagte farm where gold was first discovered in 1886: