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Saturday, 6 August 2011

Big Hole

South Africa is a world leader when it comes to mining. You name the mineral and we've got it. Largest reserves of gold and platinum group metals, chrome ore and manganese. Second largest reserves of zirconium, vanadium & titanium. The worlds 3rd largest exporter of coal. The list goes on and on.

The Worlds deepest gold mine at 3.6km, (11,762 feet), the Western Deep gold mine, soon to be exceeded by the Tau Tona gold mine at 3.9km, (12,800feet). Rock face temperatures at this depth are 300 degrees Fahrenheit. (What man won't do for gold). Hard dangerous work, and the gold recovered per ton of rock mined is measured in grams.

The only mineral we don't have is oil, and who knows it might be lurking somewhere like an evil Genie, waiting to pounce on us.

It all started in 1868, when the children of a farmer,(*Trek Boer) Daniel Jacobs, picked up some stones on the banks of the Vaal river near the small town of Hopetown.  A neighbouring farmer, Schalk van Niekerk, saw the children playing with a particularly shiny white stone. He offered to buy the stone, but was told he could have it for nothing. 

Later he showed it to an itinerant  trader called John O'Reilly who said it might be a diamond. He in turn showed it to the acting civil commissioner Lorenzo Boyze in Colesburg, a small town near the Orange river. Boyze also thought it was a diamond and sent it for analyzes to Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape. Here a gemologist confirmed that it was a diamond of 21 1/4 carats and valued it at £500. The Governor of the Cape Sir Phillip Woodhouse bought the diamond for that price.

Soon every one along the Vaal and Orange rivers were looking for shiny stones, but it wasn't until March 1869 that the next one was found, thirty miles from the original find. A young Griqua shepherd picked up a white diamond of 83.5 carats while herding goats and sheep. The diamond was bought from him by Schalk van Niekerk for the princely price of 500 sheep, 10 oxen and a horse, this was basically all van Niekerk  possessed. van Niekerk sold the diamond for £11,000, a huge fortune in those days. This diamond was later purchased by Earl Dudley for £25,000, who had it cut. Today it's known as the Star of South Africa.

The Star of South Africa as it looks today. What's it's price today?

The rush was on and every one and his dog wanted a slice of the pie. My late father in law said that nothing changes a lazy man into a hard worker, like the thought of digging up a diamond. My father in law grew up in the this part of the world, so he knew first hand what men would do for diamonds. (he became a teacher).

The Big Hole? More about the Big Hole in the next post.

*Trek Boer; nomad farmer. Trekked with his livestock from place to place looking for grazing.

Photo, Internet.


Gorges Smythe said...

I could never understand the big deal with diamonds, other than their use in tools. They just look like glass to me. Now emeralds, rubies, saphires and such are a different story!

Jo said...

Mmm, Phil, having lived and worked on a diomond mine, your post brings it all back to me. Just this week I ordered my diamond necklace for my 60th birthday (still 18 months away)! I don't suppose I'll get it. But a gal can dream, ha! I really enjoyed this post. Blessings and love, Jo