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MMining in South Africa has been a contentious issue since 15-year-old Erasmus Stephanus Jacobs discovered South Africa’s first diamond, the Eureka, in Hopetown in 1867. It kickstarted what historians call the Mineral Revolution, which made few European opportunists wealthy beyond measure, and saw hundreds of thousands of men leaving their homes to become fulltime mineworkers.
Today, the mining industry remains one of the biggest contributors to the country’s economy with an estimated worth of R20.3 trillion (US$2.5 trillion). It is the world’s fifth largest mining sector in terms of gross domestic product (GDP), contributing eight percent to South Africa’s GDP. Do not let the numbers deter you from the realities of mining in the past. It was, and to some degree remains a dangerous job.
The mineworker’s plight was captured wonderfully by founding member of the African National Congress, Sol Plaatjie, in 1914. “Two hundred thousand subterranean heroes who, by day and by night, for a mere pittance lay down their lives to the familiar ‘fall of rock’ and who, at deep levels, ranging from 1 000 to 3 000 feet in the bowels of the earth, sacrifice their lungs to the rock dust which develops miners' phthisis and pneumonia.”