Mining in South Africa

Contemporary South Africa is built on mining. This started in 1867 when Erasmus Jacobs discovered a diamond in the banks of the Orange River. This discovery was to have an enduring effect not only on mining in South Africa, but the entire Southern Africa region. Given that it is a labour intensive industry, mining in South Africa resulted in the recruitment of labour not only in South Africa but from neighboring countries like Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Lesotho, Swaziland and Botswana.

Of all the mining-related discoveries made in South Africa, the discovery of gold in the Witwatersrand in 1886 was to have the biggest impact in the country, heralding the country’s industrialisation. This discovery of gold also signaled the birth of modern Johannesburg, arguably Africa’s premier financial hub.  Initially, despite the global interest the unearthing of gold aroused, the first miners were not aware of the deep reserves of the precious metal lie beneath the ground. It was only in the first decade of the 20th century that this reality came to the fore, prompting the overnight transformation of Johannesburg into a more stable society.

Gold and diamonds aside, mining in South Africa also entails several other minerals. South Africa is the third largest exporter of coal in the world, and the leading global producer of chrome, manganese, platinum, vanadium and chrome just to mention a few. Being the bedrock of this country’s modern economy and the source of much wealth, not surprisingly mining in South Africa is one industry that attracts lots of consternation. In 2007, mining in South Africa came under intense scrutiny after 3,200 mineworkers were trapped underground at Elandskraal mine. This prompted erstwhile president, Thabo Mbeki, to instigate a safety audit of all operating mines in South Africa. Not surprisingly, a number of mines-including the country’s biggest gold mine at Driefontein, was found not to be meeting adequate safety standards.

Sadly, these are working conditions have been synonymous with mining in South Africa for a long time. The advent of a democratic dispensation in South Africa also signaled changes in the South African mining industry. New legislation called for a broader and more racially diverse ownership of mining in South Africa. Amid all the calls for restructuring, the traditional big mining houses in the form of Anglo American/De Beers, Goldfields, Anglovaal, JCI, Gencor/Billiton and Rand Mines still owned the majority of shares in South African mines, and started broadening their operations in foreign shores. To find out more about the mining industry visit

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