The year 2017 will be the 150th anniversary of the discovery of diamonds in South Africa. Actually, that may not be strictly accurate, as diamonds might have been discovered earlier although not put to commercial use. But the discovery of a diamond on the banks of the Orange in 1867 sparked off mining all over the country.
It also sparked off many other things, including the first stock exchange in Africa in nearby Kimberley in 1881, where Cecil Rhodes consolidated thousands of small diggings. Another direct by-product of mining was two universities, those of the Witwatersrand and Pretoria, which originated in a school of mines in Kimberley.
Diamond mining begat gold mining, which begat coal mining, as the mines needed colossal amounts of energy. Railways had to be built, and the mines played a huge part in financing them. Mining, in short, turned South Africa from an agricultural into an industrial economy, whence it matured into one dominated by the service industries spawned by the needs of the mining and industrial sectors.
Mining today accounts for only 8% of national GDP, but this small proportion understates its wider importance. Mining accounts for the largest single slice of output in four provinces – the Northern Cape, Mpumalanga, Limpopo, and the North West.
Our largest harbour, Richards Bay, is dependent on mineral exports. The same is true of Saldanha Bay. Several of our largest towns are dependent on the mining or processing of platinum, coal, iron ore, or copper. Without coal mining there would be no Secunda or Sasolburg.
Without mineral exports, which account for a third of merchandise exports, South Africa would not earn the foreign exchange needed to feed this import-hungry economy.
For the rest of this column, click here: http://www.politicsweb.co.za/opinion/mining-at-150-should-be-celebrated-not-threatened-