The Witwatersrand meaning ‘ridge of white waters’ which now known as Gauteng, was the richest treasure chest ever opened by man. A massive gold reef buried far below the surface. In summer the Gauteng is lushly covered with grass and the skies form a vivid blue backdrop for bizarre cloud formations. There are regular short but violent thunderstorms in the late afternoon. In winter the air is dry air and the mornings the ground is often covered by icy frost.
Many theories have been formed to explain the origin of Gauteng and almost certainly a huge lake once formed in this part of South Africa. Water drained into the lake and carried with it a thick sediment eroded from the ancient mineral-rich soil and in this sediment gold, carbon, uranium, green diamonds, iron pyrites, silver and platinum were all mixed together with pebbles and this mixture settled on the floor of the lake. Gradually as the years passed by the lake dried and its floor solidified.
When man reached Gauteng the tip of its northern rim was the only part of the lake that was visible and the rest of the bed tilted downwards and southwards to depths of some 2000 meters below the surface.
The exposed section of the Witwatersrand was seven kilometers wide and consisted of upward sloping layers and several of these layers were made up of shale which had no commercial value at all. The rest of these layers carried gold and were like the icing on the cake. These gold bearing layers were known as the Main Reef, the Main Reef Leader and the South Reef and were situated close together and were called the Main Reef Group of Conglomerates. For the past 90 years most of the world’s gold has come from these three reefs and they are also the world’s primary source of uranium.
The appearance of the Gauteng is unique and from the air a range of mine dumps stretch like strangely shaped mountains across the entire length of the Rand. At the foot of the mine dumps lie chains of lakes which were created by water that was pumped from the mines. The Gauteng area has been beautified by countless types of trees all hardy enough to survive the winter frost and the cities and towns all cluster together forming a unique man-made landscape.
Benoni - In 1881 the government of the Transvaal republic assigned title deeds to unclaimed State property lying between the already occupied farms. Johann Rissik was given the task of surveying these area and he came across a region was strangely shaped and very difficult to survey. A frustrated Rissik gave it the mournful name of Benoni (‘son of my sorrows’). All that has changed and today Benoni is beautiful with an abundance of trees, parks and lakes.
In September 1887 gold was discovered in Benoni and the Chimes Mine was established. Benoni owes much of its beauty to Sir George Farrar who was chairman of the mining company which initially owned the area and the early I900s he planted thousands of trees all over the town. Water was pumped from the mines to a natural marsh area and reservoirs were created which were stocked with fish. Some of these reservoirs are still there today and are large enough for yachting, boating and all sorts of water sports. There are also picnic and recreational sites on the banks of these lakes.
Boksburg – Leeuwport was once a farm that had several of the richest and deepest gold mines in the world on its land. In 1887 a town was laid out, in honour of Eduard Bok, to serve these mines and this was the birth of Boksburg. Commissioner Montague White was the first government official of Boksburg and he was passionate about beautifying the countryside. He planted trees all over the place and built a wall across the Vogelfontein stream and created a huge dam which remained empty for more than a year and became known as White’s Folly. Eventually during a particularly violent storm in 1889 the dam filled to the brim and is now known as Boksburg Lake and it covers 15 hectares and is surrounded by terraces, lawns, gardens and trees, a beautiful setting.
Brakpan – Close to Brakpan lies a pan of brackish water and this is said to have given Brakpan its name. Brakpan flourished as a gold and coal centre for the first half of the century and was proclaimed a municipality back in 1919. Today it is a well established little town and is the centre for big industry.
Germiston - During the gold rush a Scot named decided to try his hand at prospecting. While he was passing the farm Elandsfontein he began scraping around in the ground and found traces of gold right there and then. John Jack had a partner named August Simmer and between them they bought the farm Elandsfontein bought the farm which in the earlier days had been exchanged for an ox wagon. They started a mining company named Simmer and Jack and the both made a fortune.
Their success led to a mining town which later to became a city and John Jack named it Germiston after the farm near Glasgow where he was born. The original Elandsfontein homestead still stands near the city centre. The Simmer and Jack Mine is now a museum.
In 1921 the Rand Refinery was established in Germiston and more that 70 per cent of the gold produced it the western world passes through making it the world’s largest gold refinery. The city of Germiston is also the largest railway junction in South Africa. Germiston Lake was created by mine water is beautiful with parks and picnic spots on its banks.
Heidelberg - In 1862 a German by the name of H. J. Uekermann built a trading station at the foot of the rocky Suikerbosrand (‘ridge of sugar bushes’). The Store stood at the junction of the main wagon trails entering the area from Kwazulu-Natal and the Free State. In 1865 Uekermann laid out a town around his store and named the place Heidelberg after his old university back in Germany. At the height of the gold rush there were 18 hotels in Heidelberg and although the gold rush is over, Heidelberg remains busy as it lies on the major route from Joburg to Durban.
Krugersdorp – In 1880, between the 8th and 18th of December, 6000 men gathered on the farm called Paardekraal in the Krugersdorp area. They swore to stand together until they had secured the independence of the Transvaal and to pledge their faith each man placed a stone on a cairn. The three men appointed to lead the struggle were Paul Kruger, Piet Joubert and Marthinus Wessels Pretorius.
After the short war in 1881 with the British independence was a declared. The cairn had mysteriously disappeared during the later 1899-1902 war but a sandstone monument, 18 meters high was built on the site and dedicated in 1895 by President Kruger. Gold was discovered in the area in 1882 and the government bought a portion of Paardekraal in April 1887. It was laid out as a town and named Krugersdorp in honour of President Kruger. The town has wide streets lined by trees and several attractive old buildings including the old original courthouse which is still standing.
Krugersdorp became the principal town of the West Rand and 7 kilometres from the town centre lies the Krugersdorp Game Reserve. 1400 hectares in size and is stocked with lions, rhinos, giraffes, several species of antelope, and ostriches. There is a rest camp with bungalows and near the reserve is a privately run bird sanctuary.
Magaliesburg - The village of Magaliesburg lies in a fertile, sub-tropical valley below the southern slopes of the Magaliesburg Mountain range. The mountain, village and the river flowing through the valley are all named after Magali (or ‘Mohale’) who was the chief of the Po tribe and they lived in the area around about 1820. Tobacco used to be grown in the valley but has been taken over by various other forms of farming.
Randfontein - The farm Randfontein, (‘fountain of the ridge’), was bought by a mining financier named J. B. Robinson during the scramble for mining property immediately after the 1886 discovery of gold. The purchase paid off handsomely and in 1889 he started the Randfontein Estates Gold Mining Company and in 1890 the town of Randfontein was mapped out to serve the mine and in 1929 became a municipality.
Roodepoort - The first gold mine on the edge of the Witwatersrand was built on a farm called Wilgespruit in 1884 by the prospector Fred Struben who found a vein of rock which he claimed contained payable gold. Fred and his brother Harry started to mine ore from the foot of a high hill which they called the Mont d’Or (‘mountain of gold’) and attracted many other prospectors to the area of Roodepoort (‘the red pass’). Several mines came to life in the Roodepoort area and a wild mining camp grew and in 1904 became a municipality. in 1977 it became a city and in its borders lie Hamberg, Florida and Maraisburg.
Florida was built around a lake created from a marsh which was enlarged by water pumped from the mines and is home of numerous waterfowl and is a popular boating, fishing and recreational venue.
Springs - Coal was discovered around Springs in 1888 and six collieries were opened to supply fuel for the gold mining industry. For various technical reasons the coal mines were not a success and the collieries were gradually abandoned. New discoveries of gold brought rapid expansion and at one time Springs was the largest single gold producing area in the world. Today is Springs there are substantial local industries producing paper, glass, foodstuffs and cosmetics.
Sterkfontein Caves - In 1896 an Italian gold prospector named Guigimo Martinaglia found the entrance to a complex series of caves on a farm called Sterkfontein and today the caves are regarded as one of the world’s most important prehistoric sites.
They consist of a series of chambers connected by passages. The largest is the Hall of Elephants and is 23 meters high and 91 meters long and there are other smaller chambers called Milner Hall, Fairy Chamber, Bridal Arch, Lumbago Alley, Fossil Chamber and The Graveyard. There is a perfectly calm underground lake at 40 meters and local African tribes believe that the water has medicinal properties that can even cure blindness.
Dr. Robert Broom from the Museum in Pretoria began excavations in the cave in 1936 and made several discoveries of bones and other fossils. In 1947 he discovered ‘Mrs. Pies’ who was a well-preserved female skull of a species of early man known as Plesianthropus transvaalensis about two million years old.
Vanderbijlpark - In 1941 the South African Iron and Steel Industrial Corporation began building a steel works close to the Vaal River situated downstream from the Vaal Dam. A place to house the workers was essential so a 118 hectare site with a river frontage was selected and in it a town was laid out which was named after Dr. H. J. van der Bijl who was at the time chairman of the iron and steel corporation. The town became a municipality in 1952 although it is primarily an industrial centre, more than half a million trees have been planted to shade the streets and Vanderbijlpark is generously provided with parks and recreational areas.
Vereeniging - It was in Vereeniging where the Boer and British generals met in May 1902 to end the Anglo-Boer War. The terms of peace were negotiated in Vereeniging and the town’s museum contains photographs and relics of the war and fossil plants found in the surrounding area. Today Vereeniging is a flourishing industrial centre and became known as Vereeniging (‘company’) in 1882 after the company which first mined the area’s rich coal deposits. Because of its close proximity to the Vaal River it has many recreational facilities and resorts are abundant.