Skip to main content Skip to Search Box
Summary Article: Witwatersrand from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Economic heartland of Gauteng province, South Africa. Its reef, which stretches nearly 100 km/60 mi, produces over half the world's gold. Gold was first found here in 1853. The chief city of the region is Johannesburg. Forming a watershed between the Vaal and the Olifant rivers, the Rand comprises a series of parallel ranges which extend 100 km/60 mi east–west and rise to 1,525–1,830 m/5,000–6,000 ft above sea level. Gold occurs in reefs that are mined at depths of up to 3,050 m/10,000 ft.

Gold pioneers Peter Jacob Marais, who had been a prospector in California and Australia, was probably the first European to find gold near the Witwatersrand, on 8 December 1853 in the Jukskei River. From 1884 to 1886 two brothers, H W and F P T Struben, prospected and mined extensively on the Witwatersrand, both north and south of the main reef, attracting so much attention to this area that the subsequent discovery of the main reef became inevitable. The Strubens made the greatest individual contribution to the discovery of the Rand goldfields and were among the few pioneers who profited by their discoveries. They were the original owners of the Crown mines, which became the largest gold mine in the world. In 1899 the output of the goldfields was over 1,920 tonnes and in 1904 over 1,680 tonnes.

Founding of Johannesburg The Crown mines district was made a public goldfield in 1886, and a mining camp, at what appeared to be the richest point of the reef, sprang up on the bare veld. This was the site of Johannesburg.

Gold magnates One of the first of the large-scale exploiters was J B Robinson, who purchased land to the west of Randfontein for £26,000, which eventually was worth £18 million. He was followed by Cecil Rhodes, Sir Otto Beit, and Barnett Barnato. Rhodes is said to have received between £300,000 and £400,000 a year from the goldfields after they had been in existence only ten years. The intimate connection between the mining of mineral wealth and the development of European settlement was well understood by Cecil Rhodes, and was utilized to promote the opening up of the tropical land north of Cape Colony and the Transvaal. Several new mines were opened in the Orange Free State after 1932, when the westward extension of the main reef (some 65 km/40 mi beyond the previously known limit) was surveyed.

Reef towns Johannesburg is the centre of the Rand but ‘reef towns’, which were once suburbs of Johannesburg, became flourishing, independent towns, including Germiston, Benoni, Springs, and Krugersdorp. The largest gold refinery in the world began operation in 1920 at Germiston. After Johannesburg, Boksburg is the oldest settlement on the Rand. Its importance was due to the discovery there, in 1888, of coal, and thereafter supplied the gold mines with all the coal they needed.

Post-World War II development While gold was the foundation for the development of Witwatersrand, output from manufacturing has now surpassed the profits from gold mining. The fall in gold prices made many mines unprofitable, and a number of these economically marginal mines have had to rely upon government subsidies to stay open. A new lease of life for some mines was assured through the yield of uranium from the finely crushed ore after the gold has been extracted.

© RM, 2016. All rights reserved.

Related Credo Articles

Full text Article Witwatersrand
Philip's Encyclopedia

(Rand) Series of parallel mountain ranges more than 1,500m (5,000ft) high, forming a watershed between the Vaal and Olifant rivers, in former ...

Full text Article Witwatersrand (or the Rand)
The Macmillan Encyclopedia

A ridge of hills in NE South Africa. It extends about 160 km (99 mi) chiefly W of Johannesburg, forming the watershed between the Limpopo...

See more from Credo