The Wealth of South Africa

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In 1866 a diamond was found in the north of Cape Colony. This set off a rush which transformed the colony from a poor farming colony into a wealthy mining and industrial economy. This increased the population dramatically and created a need for cheap labor. It also increased tensions between the British and the Boers.

In 1871 the British took over the area of the diamond fields which was close to the Orange Free State. This was an action which the Boers never forgot. In 1877 the British took over The Transvaal, which forced the Boers to retake the region by force.

In 1886 gold was discovered on the Witwatersrand (The Rand) near Pretoria in Transvaal. This set off an even greater rush. The gold was a type which was expensive to mine and required a large labor force. The mine owners began to push for some type of pass system to control the African workers.

One of the mine owners was an Englishman named Cecil Rhodes who became the Prime Minister of Cape Colony in 1890. He and other mine owners planned to provoke an uprising in the Transvaal among the Uitlanders (outsiders) to give the British an excuse to take over The Transvaal.

The revolt, named after its leader Leander Jameson, was a failure but it had important consequences. Jameson's Raid forced Rhodes' resignation and drew the Boer republics closer together. Naturally, relations between Britain and the Boers worsened.

The British saw The Transvaal's wealth as a threat to its dominance in Africa, and The Boer War began in 1899



More Information


Transvaal diamond

Queen Victoria's diamond from the Transvaal

Cartton depicting Cecil Rhodes

Cecil Rhodes, depicted in a Punch cartoon reflects the attitude of British imperialism


This is part of the Bitter Union: The Story of South Africa Exhibit

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