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The Witwatersrand Basin and the Bushveld Igneous Complex, North-West, Limpopo and Mpumalanga Provinces, South Africa.

Consistent with its cultural and natural diversity, Southern Africa is also richly blessed with mineral deposits – gold, diamonds, manganese, phosphates, uranium, copper, coal, zinc, lead and so on. God clearly has a sense of humour, sprinkling such treasures about willy-nilly and challenging us to find them. 

The Witwatersrand Basin, where most of the gold in the world has been mined, is world famous. The discovery of gold by George Harrison at Langlaagte (on the “Reef” where the basin breaks through the surface) in 1886 led to the establishment of Johannesburg. The “Reef” gets deeper as one moves away from Johannesburg. Pursuing the gold-bearing reefs ever deeper, technology slowly developed that permitted mining at such depths. This led to mining of both the East and West Rand and, more recently, of the Far West Rand and Free State Goldfields. Over 15000 feet (5000-m) deep in places, the latter are by far the deepest mines in the world.

Unfortunately, in spite of the fact that the deposit contains the largest reserves of gold in the world, it is less profitable to mine gold at such depths and the output of gold from the deposit is steadily decreasing.

Immediately adjacent to the Witwatersrand Basin (literally on the other side of the Ridge or Witwatersrand) lies the Bushveld Igneous Complex, which contains the lion’s share of the world’s platinum group metals (PGM’s), chrome and vanadium reserves. Discovered by Hans Merensky, it is an enormous deposit, stretching from Rustenburg in North-West province in the west to Lydenburg in Mpumalanga in the east, and from Brits, near to Gauteng in the South to Pietersburg in Limpopo Province in the North. It consists of many strata, which are divided into three groups (i.e. the upper, middle and lower groups). Strata in these groups are numbered from top to bottom. Accordingly, mining engineers casually refer, for example, to the mining of UG2 and assume that you understand that they are talking about the seam second from the top of the upper group (UG).

This categorization is useful because the seams stretch, virtually unchanged, for hundreds of kilometers. The only difference is that the depth of the seams changes. Naturally, since the deeper the mine, the more expensive mining becomes, shallower deposits are mined first. Some are so shallow that strip mining is practiced. Mining occurs in places like Rustenburg, Northam, Wonderkop, Tubatse in the Steelpoort Valley, Lydenburg, Middelburg, Witbank, and so on.

Further east in Mpumalanga lie enormous coal deposits. Diamond deposits are liberally scattered here and there (e.g. Jagersfontein, Kimberley, Cullinan, Selibe Phikwe and off the west coast at Alexander Bay). Lastly, in northern Zambia and the DRC lie some of the world’s richest deposits of copper and cobalt. In other words, five important mineral deposits within a radius of a few hundred kilometers – undoubtedly the most significant mineral deposits in the world. Alan McIver. NFBushveld

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Last update: 2014-02-28 15:54
Author: Alan McIver
Revision: 1.2

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