King's College London
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I speak of Africa

The Transvaal

Map of the gold fields, from: Pearse Morrison. A visit to the Transvaal: Barberton, Johannesberg and back. London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co., 1890 [FCO Historical Collection DT1017 MOR]Map of the gold fields, from: Pearse Morrison. A visit to the Transvaal: Barberton, Johannesberg and back. London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co., 1890 [FCO Historical Collection DT1017 MOR]In 1886 the second mineral discovery that was to prove a catalyst for the industrialisation of South African society took place; deep seams of gold were found in the Witwatersrand ridge, in the Transvaal. Within a decade the Boer republic of the Transvaal, hitherto a poor and thinly populated state, was transformed into a rapidly industrialised centre of competitive capitalism, whose new wealth threatened the British colonies’ power and influence in southern Africa.

The influx of fortune-hunters from all over the world, seen first at the Kimberley diamond mines, was replicated in the Transvaal on a far larger scale, In 1886 Johannesburg, on the Witwatersrand hills, was a tiny rural settlement; a decade later it had a white population of 102,000 and was one the world’s biggest financial centres. New roads and railways, coal mines to provide power and the industrialised production of consumer goods to satisfy the newly rich inhabitants of the Transvaal – all sprang up in the wake of the gold rush, as the map on display illustrates.

Similarly, the effect of industrialisation on labour relations between black and white, apparent on the Kimberley diamond fields, was intensified on the goldfields. The huge demand for unskilled labour and the measures put in place to obtain and control that labour and prevent its revolt foreshadowed the strict physical segregation and control of movement by the notorious pass laws of the apartheid era. In the words of the historian Frederick A. Johnstone, ‘it was there [the goldfields] that … the first and most extensive institutionalisation of racial discrimination in South Africa’ took place.

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