The landscape of South Africa is rugged and diverse, from deserts to seas to mountains. Those attributes alone are treasures for the motorcycle rider who is fortunate enough to ride this land. But beneath the picturesque surface, lies an even greater cornucopia of mineral wealth. Almost every precious stone, metal, and mineral has been found here.
Mining the earth’s crust is nothing new. Late Stone Age people quarried haematite, the mineral form of iron oxide, as a source of red ochre used for cosmetic and ritualistic purposes.
It was the discovery of gold and diamonds that kick started South Africa’s economy, and eventually led to the Boer War. A pretty pebble found northeast of Cape Town in 1867 was identified as a 21¼-carat diamond. The following years, others turned up, including an 83½ -carat diamond. By the end of 1870, a diamond rush was underway and by 1872, 12,500 miners and labourers were working in the mines.
Gold came next. For ages, stories of gold deposits had been part of the folklore of indigenous tribes, attracting gold seekers from all over the world. In 1884, explorer and prospector Jan Gerritze Bantjes hit paydirt and by 1886, the Witwatersrand Gold Rush was on.
Whereas diamonds and gold fueled the economy, coal and iron ore were vital to power the expanding mining industry and eventually the entire power base of the country.
Diamonds and gold production are down from their peaks but they remain major contributors to the economy. South Africa is estimated to have the world’s fifth largest mining sector in terms of GDP with an estimated worth of $2.5 trillion.
The earth’s crust you ride on:
The mining industry has struggled in recent years after 160 years of commercialization, but South Africa still has one of the most diverse mining industries in the world.
The next time you ride across the country and take in the landscape, observe the rocks and pebbles strewn across its surface. They may be no ordinary South Africa rocks!