I am delighted that one of the Johannesburg Glimpses interviews conducted in the early 2000s by Mike Alfred was with Kenneth S Birch a giant of a mining man (click here to read). I have been aware of the work of Kenneth Birch for some time. Unfortunately I never met him. I know that the Birch archive was deposited with the University of Pretoria.
The tiny town of Marikana (established in 1870) was never much of a town and for a long time was really no more than a railway station and a collection of shops. In fact, the outside world would not have heard of Marikana at all if it were not for the notorious Lonmin Marikana platinum mining strike and shooting, where 34 striking Lonmin miners were shot and killed by police in 2012.
In its heyday, black African competitive cycling on South Africa’s gold mines received little publicity either locally or internationally. Nevertheless, it flourished for nearly three decades, beginning in the late 1950s and extending into the mid-1980s. Today it has been almost totally forgotten. However, a recently published biography of a leading South African cycling personality of the period, entitled Basil Cohen: South Africa’s Mr. Cycling, vividly recalls this lost history of Black South African cycling.
During the reign of Queen Victoria the then British Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli once told the House of Commons, ‘More men have been knocked off balance by gold than by love” but to be fair to the man he also said on another occasion “We are all born for love. It is the principle of existence, and its only end”.
Very few people have heard of the first borehole sunk in an effort to prove that there were payable deposits of gold in the Free State. This is its story.
Soon after the major discoveries of the Witwatersrand and its expansion east and west the search went further out into the Free State in the hope of finding the continuation of the reefs. Already in the 1890s there was speculative buying of farms to the south of Klerksdorp over the Vaal.
In the article below, John Lincoln reveals some of the history of the mining hostels of Cullinan. The piece is enhanced by a spectrum of photographs from the Cullinan Mine Archives. Click here to view the index of Lincoln's series on the history of Cullinan.
Readers will no doubt be puzzled by a supposed mining link connecting Cape Governor Simon Van der Stel (1639-1712) to US President Herbert Hoover (1874-1964). They not only lived in different centuries, but also on separate continents 12 700 kilometers apart. Well, read on and decide for yourself!
Below is the sixth part of John Lincoln's series on the history of Cullinan (click here to view the series index). It looks at some impressive mining history and reveals the vast scale of operations at the Premier / Cullinan Mine. As always, the photos from the Cullinan Mine Archive are remarkable.
A friend who grew up in Germiston claimed at his recent birthday bash that while you could leave Germiston, it would never leave you. His words mulled through my mind as I arrived at the Primrose Cemetery. Visiting a historic cemetery like Primrose is similar to visiting an interesting museum. Instead of viewing artifacts one sees the tombstones of people who participated in events that may have shaped one’s life in one way or another. One also starts better interpreting the tombstone symbols and appraising the epitaphs.
Below is the second installment of a series based on John Lincoln's wonderful book Story from a Diamond Mine (click here to view series index). It looks at the discovery of the famous Cullinan Diamond and highlights some of the mysteries that are still with us today. The piece finishes by looking at some of the other famous stones that have emerged from the Cullinan / Premier Mine.
John Lincoln's wonderful book 'Stories from a Diamond Mine' tells the story of the Premier Mine (today the Cullinan Mine) and the village that grew up around it. We are honoured to be able to reproduce the book as a series (click here to view index). Below is the first installment which traces the history of Minnaars' Farm and reveals the complex story of how the land was acquired by Thomas Cullinan.
On 13 August 2018, Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Mineral Resources revisited the Winkelhaak Cemetery at Evander Gold Mine, Mpumalanga. The Committee noted progress in improving the infrastructure at the grave site by the Winkelhaak Cemetery Project. Since their last visit in 2015, a wall has been built around the whole site and a granite monument has been erected.
In the article below, journalist Lucille Davie ventures across old Joburg mining land tracking the activities of 21st century gold prospectors. She reveals the secret nature of their enterprises and describes the innovative processes used to extract the gold from multiple sources. The article was originally published on the City of Joburg's website on 4 October 2006 (Joburg's 120th birthday). Click here to view more of Davie's work.
On the 21 January 1960 a major calamity befell the coal mine at Coalbrook, situated in the Northern Free State 21km south west of Vereeniging. 437 miners were buried alive 180 meters below the surface when an estimated 900 pillars collapsed. A major rescue effort was undertaken, unfortunately without any positive results.
This article covers the history of the coal mine, the events leading up to the disaster, the causes, the aftermath and what we find there today.
When George Harrison discovered the Main Reef of gold at Langlaagte farm in 1886, it was believed by many to be an old river that had been turned on its side. They therefore believed the gold could not continue for more than about 30 to 50 meters underground.
In the feel good article below, journalist Lucille Davie describes the epic return of Joburg's first stamp mills to the area where they were originally installed in 1885. The article was first published on the City of Joburg's website on 21 May 2009. Click here to view more of Davie's writing.
It always feels good when something is returned to where it originally belonged. So it is with the stamp mills owned by Joburg's first gold prospectors, Fred and Harry Struben.
In a previous article on the Neilson brothers, the author states: “It is still not clear whether the Neilson brothers were South African or potentially foreign photographers who saw a commercial opportunity in photographing the South Africa deep-level mines.”
South African mining photographs from as early as 1870 have been identified. These early diamond surface mining activity photographs were taken by Weber & Sederstrom at New Rush (Kimberley). When gold was found in Johannesburg some 14 years later (1884), it was initially not difficult to mine as the gold was found near the surface and prospectors had many laborers to assist them with the digging.
Should one drive out of Johannesburg eastwards along the N12 highway, a famous landmark is passed at the Snake Road exit, known as Benoni’s mountain or more accurately the Kleinfontein Mine Dump. The Dump has been standing tall (92 metres) for over 90 years but will soon only be a memory as it is being reclaimed for the estimated 3 ½ tons of gold that it contains. For many it is an eyesore and good riddance, but others will be sad to see it go.
The discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand in 1886 started a gold rush that surpassed the Californian (1849), Victorian (1851) and Barberton (1885) rushes and the initial boom created the city of Johannesburg, which was literally and figuratively built on gold. The initial boom lasted for three years as the mining companies followed the sloping reef into the earth’s crust and then in 1889 the bust happened, as the gold appeared to suddenly run out which in turn caused a pall of pessimism to hang over the diggings.