The 19thc was a period of revolutionary change in South Africa due to mineral revolution.

Encarta (2009) defines a mineral as a naturally occurring substance that is mined or extracted from the ground.

Revolution is simply a dramatic change in ideas or practice (Encarta:2009).

What is mineral revolution?

This refers to rapid industrialization and economic changes that took place in South Africa as a result of the discovery of minerals especially diamonds and gold in the late 19th century.

Background to Mineral Revolution in South Africa

Even before the discovery of minerals in 1867, South Africa was already integrated into capitalist system.

The Dutch had already settled at Table Bay in 1652 (Mlahagwa: 1989).

By 1860s, there were three main races; the African people, the Dutch and the British.

The first mineral discovery was that of diamond at Kimberley in 1867, under Nicolaas Waterboer. (John: 1991).

In 1886 gold was discovered at Witwatersrand in Transvaal (Mlahagwa: 1989).

  • Precious metals (e.g. silver)
  • Metallic minerals (copper, chrome, iron, manganese, tin)

Other minerals found in South Africa:

Non-metallic minerals (coal, asbestos, limestone, phosphates) (John: 1991).

With further discoveries, South Africa dramatically changed socially, economically and politically.

The Situation of South Africa Before Mineral Revolution

John (1991) points out that

South Africa had few towns with few people

It was technologically backward

It was agriculturally backward

There were no heavy industries

It was experiencing financial problems

There was very small foreign investment

There was no a unified state

Effects of Mineral revolution

Political effects of Mineral Revolution

It influenced the British ambitions to govern the hinterland parts. This resulted into incorporation of diamond fields at Kimberley by the British. (Mwijage: 2006)

It created enmity between the British and Boers. Boers had lost their land and interest to the British (Davis: 1973).

It influenced the introduction of Apartheid policy (in 1948). The policy separated the people into races (John: 1991)

It led to imbalance of power between the whites and blacks. Africans totally lost their independence (Davis: 1973)

It marked the formation of federation of South Africa by the British in 1877 (John: 1991).

Social Effects of Mineral Revolution

Cultural transformation due to cultural contacts. Number of whites had increased and this affected natives culture (Okoth: 2001).

Increase of racial segregation. Africans were always mistreated (Davis:1973).

Transvaal was changed from being agricultural and pastoral to highly industrialized society

It led to population growth due to immigration. People from nearby places like Mozambique and Zimbabwe emigrated to South Africa (John: 1991).

Spread of diseases e.g. lung diseases caused by pollution from coal mining (John: 1991).

Family separation. Labor migration separated family members in various places e.g. Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Angola

Economic Effects of Mineral Revolution

It reconstructed the economy of South Africa. Agricultural and pastoral economy was transformed into industrial and commercial economy (Okoth: 2001).

It facilitated the development of transport system e.g. the Natal and Cape railway linked the borders of Transvaal (Okoth: 2001)

It led to transformation of Kimberley into important mining and commercial centre with large population. Other towns like Johannesburg also grew (Zeleza: 1993).

It offered employment opportunities. Capital obtained allowed further investments that offered more jobs (Callinicos: 1980).

Export trade grew.  Harbors like Cape Town were used for export (Wilson & Ramphele1989).

The rise of South African industrial revolution. Different industries emerged, e.g. food processing, iron and steel industries (Adhikari2005).

It led to agricultural expansion. Food was needed to feed industrial workers and miners (Magubane: 1990).

It encouraged labor migration. People in areas like Angola, Mozambique and Zimbabwe were attracted to enter South Africa (Okoth: 2001).

Increase of land alienation by whites. The whites alienated more land for mining and agricultural activities. This left Africans landless (Johnstone: 1976).

Emergence of large mining companies e.g. the De Beer Consolidated Mines Ltd under Cecil Rhodes in 1880s. Such companies were to extract minerals (John: 1991)

Environmental Effects of Mineral Revolution

Loss of biodiversity. Mining activities destroyed landscapes and forests leading to loss of wildlife. Water pollution by mining also killed aquatic organisms e.g. disappearance of waterweeds at Kimberley since 1860s was due to pollution by chemicals from mining (Makhosezwe: 1990).

It led to deforestation. Large stretches of land had been cleared to allow mining processes. According to Brian (2005), mining in South Africa required large areas that were cleared leading to loss of forests throughout the areas where minerals were extracted hence leaving the land bare.

Environmental pollution. Land, water and air were polluted by wastes from mines and industries. Chemicals, fumes and solid particles polluted the environment. For instance, in Transvaal, the dumping of rotten industrial materials in water canals led to the increase of polluted water (Bernard: 1990)

Land degradation. Harmful materials like chemicals from mines dumped into land destroyed its quality. The reality is that the environmental management systems and restoration procedures were not in place (Brian: 2005).

Mineral discoveries marked a turning point of South African history. The interior of South Africa became so important to the colonialists that the balance of power was tipped firmly in favor of the whites and the African states were eclipsed.

It was mineral revolution that transformed South Africa from subsistence economy to commercial and industrial society.


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