Lessons from the past: The gold curse

The discovery of gold in what was later to become Johannesburg resulted not only in wealth, but also in significant social and political problems.

The discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand made a few intrepid immigrants — later dubbed the Randlords — extremely rich. Conversely, the majority of the workers toiled in dust and mud for years without just reward. As the Randlords became richer and living conditions deteriorated, the workers — most of them immigrants known as uitlanders by the Afrikaners (who then governed the Republic of South Africa) — became unhappier. Paul Kruger, the then president of the Republic, was a thorn in the side of the uitlanders. He refused to give them suffrage or any say in how the country should be governed. This squabble eventually resulted in the so-called Jameson Raid and later the Anglo-Boer War.

According to Geoffrey Wheatcroft, author of the book The Randlords, Johannesburg bubbled with resentments justified and unjustified; grievances real and imaginary. Wheatcroft’s book depicts a clear picture of just how disgruntled the uitlanders became: “The uitlanders’ dislike of Kruger’s Republic had grown — and had been carefully nurtured. In 1892, the Transvaal National Union was formed to publicise the cause of the uitlanders and promote their claims, which on the face of things were plausible.”

Writing almost thirty years later in 1918, one of the leaders of the uitlanders, the American mining engineer John Hays Hammond, listed their grievances in his book, The truth about the Jameson Raid.

“There was no sewerage system or clean water supply in Johannesburg. Barely 1% of money spent on education in the town was spent on uitlander children — in other words on education in English. The uitlanders paid for the city but had no say in running it, while the mining industry was being harassed by government monopolies, especially of dynamite. The railways were in the hands of another monopoly, the Netherlands South Africa Railways Company, whose shareholders were entirely German, Dutch, and Boer, and whose freight charges were so extortionate that rather than use the last stretch of the line controlled by the company, it was cheaper to unload goods coming from the Cape on the Free State side of the Vaal fords and bring them on to the Rand. The liquor distilled by the liquor monopolists was poising the workers at the mine, rendering them dangerous at work, or unfit to go to work. Kruger and his cronies leant heavily on the Transvaal judiciary, which was not independent or impartial, and finally Pretoria expected the uitlanders to do military service.” This all happened in about 1895. Five years later, the Republic was at war with the British.”

Pin It
Home Features Case Studies Lessons from the past: The gold curse

Connect with us

Talk to us

Available Monday - Friday, 8 AM - 4 PM
Call usemail us