Figure of the month: 1885

News Arnulf Hinkel, financial journalist – 01.03.2021

Copyright: Sheba Media

The term “gold rush” may be inextricably linked to the US state of California, which attracted hundreds of thousands of soldiers of fortune were from 1848 onwards. The California gold rush was, however, neither the first – that was triggered in 1693 by large gold discoveries in Brazil – nor was it the last. In South Africa, the massive search for gold deposits started much later, in the late 19th century, amongst other places in the town of Barterton, named after a gold prospector. The construction of gold mines started near the town in 1885.

The usual lifespan of a gold mine: between 10 and 30 years

Patience and endurance are prerequisites in the mining business. It can take ten years or more from a mining company’s first test drillings to the actual start of construction work on a gold mine. It can then take up to another five years to obtain all required permits and subsequent construction work to be completed. Usually, it is not only the mine itself that has to be built, but also the entire infrastructure, from accommodation and shopping facilities for the miners to the logistics chain. It is only then that the actual operation of the gold mine can begin, which usually lasts between 10 and 30 years. In Barterton, however, there is an active gold mine that was built back in 1885.

Sheba Mine: still in operation after more than 100 years

Copyright: Sheba Media

As the first of a total of six gold mines built near Barberton at the end of the 19th century, the Sheba Mine is actually the world’s oldest active gold mine. Like its sister mines, it owes this fact to a rather unfortunate development for Barterton at the time: just as the gold-mining town was flourishing – there was even a stock exchange – an even greater gold rush, unparalleled in its extent in South Africa, started in Witwatersand in 1898, when enormous gold deposits were discovered there. As a consequence, most gold seekers left Barterton, and while production in its mines today is on a much smaller scale, it has been up and running for 135 years today, including its construction period.

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