The 1860's saw the British embark on serious
mineral exploitation. They started diamond mining in Griqualand West.
Gold mining began in Witwatersland in 1886.
Southern African gold had been exported for thousands of years to the
Arab Peninsula and the Persian Gulf, but it had never been exploited on
a massive scale. Now it was to be the focus of reckless European speculators
and the investment houses of the world.
In 1889, Cecil
Rhodes, already hugely wealthy
from diamond mining, set his ambitions north of the Limpopo and tricked
Lobengula, the King of the Ndebele into handing over his land. Ndebele
thought he was granting Rhodes a limited mining concession.
In August 1889 the King wrote to Queen Victoria to complain:
white people are troubling me much about gold. If the queen hears that
I have given away the whole country it is not so."
Cecil Rhodes made his views on African
rights clear, eight years earlier, when he wrote to his friend W.T. Stead
in August 1891:
"I contend that we are the first race in the world, and that the more
of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race."
Between 1903 and 1973, 42,000 men died
on the gold mines. Ninety per cent of these were African. African miners
were not allowed to move on to skilled work, which was reserved for white
Between 1911 and 1969, salaries of white miners rose by over seventy per
cent in real terms, while those of black miners remained the same. White
miners had their own union, and carried out a number of strikes, notably
in 1922 with the Rand Rebellion. But white miners showed no solidarity
with their African fellow workers.
In 1941, African workers formed the African
Mine Workers Union. In 1946 they called a general strike. Nine men were
killed, and seventy men were dismissed. The union was subsequently banned.
The need for more cheap black labour after the Second World War led the
South African government to look for migrant workers outside South Africa,
mainly from Mozambique and Malawi.
"A trade union organisation would be outside
the comprehension of all but a few educated natives of the urban type;
it would not only be useless, but detrimental to the ordinary mine
native in his present stage of development."
South African Chamber of Mines quoted by Francis Wilson in Labour in the South African Gold Mines 1911-69.
the 1970's Anglo American was the biggest mining group in southern Africa.
It had a high commercial profile, worldwide. Anglo American
had a controlling interest in mines in Botswana and Zambia.