The 1886 discovery of gold on a farm in the Witwatersrand region of southern Africa drove the growth of Johannesburg, and gold mining has aided the South African economy for more than a century since. But gold, and diamonds, also fueled the Second Boer War, one of the most destructive armed conflicts in Africa’s history. The war resulted in the deaths of nearly 100,000 people, including tens of thousands of Boer women and children who died in British concentration camps. The consequences of the war, including gold mining’s lasting environmental legacy, and the rise of Afrikaner nationalism that reinforced apartheid, are still felt today.
British and Dutch Colonization
The Boers were farmers, part of the population of Afrikaners descended from early Dutch settlers who arrived in southern Africa in the 17th and 18th centuries. In 1652, the Dutch East India Company established a colony in what is now Cape Town to control trade routes from Europe around the Cape of Good Hope to India and other eastward destinations. From its beginning, the Cape Colony enslaved indigenous African populations.