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150th Anniversary of Diamonds in SA


2017 marks the 150th Anniversary of the discovery of diamonds in South Africa. Actually, that may not be entirely true as diamonds may have been discovered earlier by people who never put them up for commercial use. However, the discovery of the first diamond on the banks of the Orange River near Hopetown (1867) sparked the development of mining in the country. It was also the spark that started many other things including the establishment of the first stock exchange in South Africa in Kimberley in 1881.

Other by products of the discovery of diamonds were the two main universities of South Africa, namely the University of the Witwatersrand (WITS) and the University of Pretoria (TUKS), which had their origins in a school of mining set up in Kimberley in 1896. The man who consolidated the thousands of small diggings in Kimberley (Cecil Rhodes) also went on to found the De Beers Consolidated Mines and then used profits to extend into the gold mining in and around Johannesburg. Railways were then set up from the coast to the interior and were built to serve the needs of mining. Factories were then erected to manufacture everything from steel to dynamite and boots and following this, the Rand Water Board was established in the early part of the century.

And so on. The ground below the South African veld still holds the world’s largest reserves of mineral resources if the even richer reserves of oil in other countries are not taken into account. Some years ago the value of our minerals was put at 2.5 trillion dollars but our mining industry is still in danger. Mining all over the world is subject to the extreme volatility of commodity prices and governments in many countries seek to tax “windfall profits” made by mining companies. The South African industry, however, faces particular challenges arising in part from the particular history of its development under the apartheid system. These challenges are compounded by the government’s “empowerment” and other requirements in a “Mining Charter” introduced in 2004, and also by increasingly vocal environmental lobbyists.

Following a violent strike and clashes in which 10 people were murdered and the lethal shooting of 34 miners at Lonmin’s platinum mine at Marikana near Rustenburg in August 2012, the wages and housing conditions of black miners were subjected to renewed critical scrutiny, both in South Africa and abroad.