How the death of an industry is felt by everyone.
I started my career in financial journalism in January 1980. The gold price had just hit a record $850 an ounce, the rand was trading at $1.35 – no mistake – and Johannesburg was literally the City of Gold.
At the time, South Africa was the world’s largest producer of gold (over 1,000 tonnes per annum), platinum and other precious metals. We were truly the centre of the mining universe and our politicians of the time couldn’t stop reminding the outside world how important we were to them….
The Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) gold board had over 30 gold mining companies listed; and then there were the mining holding companies: the Anglos, Gencore, Rand Mines, JCI and many smaller ones.
The financial and investment community literally lived from gold-fix to gold-fix, still then relayed to the waiting world from London via telex messages, which came spattering out into the hands of the copy boys whose sole task was to tear a strip of paper with either good or bad news and run to whomever was paying his salary. And as Baron de Rothschilds* proved during the Napoleonic Wars, being first with vital information made the difference between huge profits and losses.
The Johannesburg CBD was booming. Head offices, restaurants, bars, clubs and even massage parlours were scattered in and around the precincts of the head offices of some of the most powerful mining companies in the world.
As a financial journalist one also witnessed and experienced first-hand some of the excesses, today unthinkable, which was part and parcel of a relatively small group of businessmen, financiers and miners, who were making enormous amounts of money.
One example that comes to mind was the ‘party bus’ imported by Darling & Hodges, a supplier of mining equipment to the gold and platinum industry. Another example was a well-known PR practitioner who booked out a whole massage parlour for the afternoon to entertain all the senior financial editors in the Johannesburg area. Regrettably I was the junior in the office and had to cover for the editor who went to a ‘press conference’ that lasted well into the night.
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