Before minerals were discovered in South Africa the people had been economically engaged in subsistence farming.

The Boers were unable to use the land efficiently because they were ill equipped for farming. They mainly grew cereals like maize, wheat, barley, oats, etc.

They also led a nomadic pastoral life. They kept cattle and sheep and from the sheep they got wool from which was the basis of S. Africa’s economic development from about 1840. In addition to that wine was also exported by the people of South Africa.

In the Boers republics, the situation was worse as they were far off the coast, as importation and exportation was nonexistent.

The British were powerful and prominent in South Africa and struggled to take over parts of

S.A. including African and Boer states. The British were militarily and economically stable. They carried out farming and trade in the Cape colony and Natal.

The British missionaries preached Christianity to Africans without discrimination and even provided them houses. They recognized African leaders and only conquered those who threatened them.

Before the mineral discovery, the African nations like the Zulu, Ndebele, Basuto, etc. were stronger politically, militarily, economically and socially.

After 1870, the South African economy was rapidly transformed. In 1867, Diamonds were discovered along the banks of the Vaal   River around present day Kimberley. In 1884-85, Gold was discovered in Witwatersrand and in the Transvaal.

Some historians have called the mineral discovery and exploitation the ‘Mineral Revolution’ because  it  was  the  most   dramatic  event  to  have  taken  place  in  S.  Africa before 1900.   It was more revolutionary than the Mfecane and more influential than the Boer Trek.

Mineral revolution refers to the social, economic and political changes that took place in S.A. after the discovery of minerals. These included diamonds, gold, etc.

The old pastoral life of the whites was shaken off. Had there been no mineral revolution, the powerful white status of S. Africa today would not be in existence.

The Boer leader Paul Kruger looked at the discovery of Gold as a disaster as a new group of Europeans from the Netherlands, Britain, and the whole of Europe flocked into the area. They were supposed to provide skilled labour by engineering. They were referred to as the Uitlanders.

Paul Kruger looked at the Uitlanders just as the British from whom the Boers were trying to escape since1825. He had this to say in the report. “They have gone far to my land. Every ounce of gold taken from the bowls of our soil will yet have to be weighed out with rivers of tears.” This was Kruger’s opinion of the influx of the British and Uitlanders.

In 1870, the area where diamonds had been discovered was being claimed by the Orange Free State, Transvaal and the Tswana. The British therefore decided to annex the area to the Cape Colony.  The  action  annoyed  the  Boers  and  it was  even worsened  by  the  British businessman Cecil Rhodes who wanted to take over the whole of S. Africa for Britain. Hence that led to the Anglo-Boer wars 1880-1902.

The changes in the economy of South Africa between 1867 and 1910.

Until 1867, S. Africa depended on wool product. Until then, the value of exports from S. Africa had never been more than half the value of its imports.

  • In 1867, diamonds were discovered at Kimberley and in 1884, gold was discovered at Witwatersrand. Uranium, Manganese were also discovered at the Rand.
  • The sale of diamonds increased the value of exports by ten-fold. Trade value in exports rose in the period 1870 to 1892 worthy million pounds.
  • The Kimberly and Rand mining areas and their expanding population provided a large internal market for food because the population had to be fed and provided for.
  • Agricultural prices soared for hundreds of kilometers around the mines as the miners paid high prices for fresh products.
  • This in turn stimulated the development of cash crop farming on the countryside around the mines. Hence the subsistence farming changed to commercial farming.
  • The economy also changed from agricultural to an industrial economy. Many industries grew up around the Diamond and Gold fields.
  • The Ox-wagons that carried the Boer trekkers over the Orange and Vaal rivers could not cope with the heavy machinery for the mines and that led to the railway development.
  • Railway which recently had been started by private companies, were bought out by the government and their construction. For example, in 1887, the Delagoa-Transvaal railway was constructed; in 1892, the Natal-Transvaal railway was constructed.
  • Telephones, telegraphs, roads and bridges were constructed and improved, even with the outside world, especially with the construction of direct telegraph links with London.
  • Boer’s states emerged from poverty to wealth as a result of mineral discovery.
  • The Transvaal prospered by heavy taxation on gold mining companies, for example the De-beers company.
  • The Cape colony prospered from its diamonds, agricultural expansion and customs duties which came as a result of the diversification.
  • Natal made a lot of money from customs duties and its sugar industry of the Rand.
  • Thousands of Africans from all over South Africa flocked to the diamond mines to get work. Thus many Africans were employed.
  • The price of land in the diamond area rose very high and farms were sold at a very high price because of the value attached to them.
  • A migrant labor system developed as men left their families to go and work on contracts in towns.
  • The economy was highly monetarized i.e. money was widely used.
  • Banking and insurance were set up and widely used e.g standard chartered, orient bank, etc.
  • Trading centers developed into towns such as Kimberly, Johannesburg, etc
  • Foreign and local investments increased in S.A,

How did these changes affect the relationship between the British and the Boers?

  • The British annexation of the diamond fields and Griqualand renewed old hatreds between the Boers and the British.
  • The Boer republics felt that they had been cheated and their relationship with Britain became very unfriendly.
  • The Orange Free State felt bitter with the British as the diamond field affair came so soon after the annexation of Basuto land.
  • Cape Colony became jealous. It did not want to see that the Boers republics share directly from the economic prosperity brought about by the diamonds.
  • Britain could no longer ignore the Boer Republics and thought that a Union of the South Africa under the British flag was necessary.
  • The Boers were uncomfortable. In the Transvaal, the son of the Old Boer trekker leader, Pretorius was replaced as President who was considered or thought less likely to be overpowered by British Diplomat, Thomas Burgers.
  • The British began to press for a federation with the Boer states where each state would be self-governed except in matters of common interests.
  • However, none of the states wanted to join a federation. The two Boer Republics suspected the idea was just a trap to force them back to the British Empire.
  • The Boer states opposed the idea, but the British government did not want to drop its plan. So the British forced the Transvaal to approve the idea because the other states would fall in line.
  • In 1877, Britain annexed Transvaal very easily because Transvaal was bankrupt and was done in a state of civil war, and there was no armed resistance.
  • The increasing Uitlander population (mainly incoming British) threatened to upset the Afrikaner / Boer control of the country.
  • To preserve their position, the Afrikaners/Boers began to resist the voting rights of the newcomers i.e. the Uitlanders.
  • The newcomers/ Uitlanders threatened to stop paying tax saying ‘no taxation without representation.