The gold rush

You need only look at the meaning of the word Gauteng to understand the most significant discovery in the province’s history. It means “place of gold” in Sesotho, and was given to the province to commemorate the Witwatersrand gold rush to this area when gold was discovered in 1886.

Ferreira's Camp, Witwatersrand Gold Rush. Image courtesy <a href=''>the Great Gold Rush</a>

Ferreira's Camp, Witwatersrand Gold Rush. Image courtesy the Great Gold Rush

Although the story of Johannesburg is well known, the Witwatersrand gold rush spread further than Africa’s city of gold. In fact, scientists refer to the “golden arc” of gold deposits that stretches across the province.

It was a man named George Harrison who brought the world’s attention to the area in 1886 with his discovery of the main gold-bearing reef, lighting the fuse to an explosion of migrant workers, fortune seekers and good old-fashioned gold-diggers. The population grew rapidly, and the area soon became the largest city in the country, Johannesburg, expanding into the region that would ultimately become Gauteng as we know it today. Johannesburg is still the largest city in the country.

Related tourist attractions

The rest, as they say, is history, evidence of which is scattered across the province. In fact, there is an entire entertainment complex known as Gold Reef City, which is themed around the gold rush. Among the water rides and roller coasters lies a host of informative experiences, from museum houses to immersive environments that show you the lives of the early fortune hunters.

Gold Reef City gold bar. Image courtesy of <a rel="nofollow" class="external text" href=""></a> [<a href="">CC-BY-1.0</a> or <a href="">CC-BY-3.0</a>], <a href=''>via Wikimedia Commons</a>

Gold Reef City gold bar. Image courtesy of [CC-BY-1.0 or CC-BY-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

If you are after a more authentic experience, you can explore one of the oldest gold mines in Gauteng, the Kromdraai Gold Mine. Situated in the beautiful Cradle of Humankind, you can take a tour that will explain early mining methods. (It also happens to be on the doorstep of the Maropeng Visitor Centre and the Sterkfontein Caves.)

There is also the Blaauwbank Historic Gold Mine and Resort where you can get up close and personal with the original equipment used by those early miners, such as cocopans, picks, shovels, pit props and rope winches.

And don’t forget the Cullinan Diamond Mine which, although not a gold mine, played a pivotal role in the history of the province.

More visible reminders of Gauteng’s mining heritage are the numerous mine dumps around the province. These are mounds of residue from previous mining operations, consisting mainly of crushed rock (although over the years they have become covered in grass and plants).

Gauteng is a province built on gold, and by taking in the history of this golden era, you can gain an appreciation of just how powerful the allure of this precious metal is.