Gateway to the Classics: Our Empire Story by H. E. Marshall
Our Empire Story by  H. E. Marshall

The Gold City

About a year after freedom had been given back to the South African Republic a discovery was made which has perhaps changed the fortunes of South Africa more than any other. This was the discovery in the Republic of the richest gold mines in the world.

For many years gold had been found and worked in South Africa, but it was in such small quantities and so hard to get at that few people went to these gold-fields. But when the Witwatersrand mines were discovered, about forty miles from Pretoria, people from all parts of the world flocked to them.

The mines there could not be worked like those of Australia or California, for machinery was needed to dig out and crush the rock in which the gold was embedded. This machinery cost far too much money for one man to buy. So men joined together, and many companies were formed. It was a time of great excitement, for some companies succeeded and the men grew rich, others failed and the men who had spent all that they had in the hope of making more became beggars.

And meanwhile a new and great town arose in the Transvaal, a town which grew as if by magic to be the largest in all South Africa. This new town of Johannesburg was at first only a huge camp. Everywhere white tents and ugly corrugated iron houses sprang up. But soon these were swept away, and beautiful buildings, laid out in streets and squares, with parks and gardens, took their place.

This beautiful city, with glittering palaces, with theatres, schools, hospitals, and churches, with telephones and electric light, and everything that a great city needs, grew up as if by enchantment in a country where all around there were only simple farmers, living in two-roomed cottages. It grew up hundreds of miles from a railway, for in all the Orange Free State and the South African Republic there was no railroad. The machinery for the mines, the stone and wood, iron and bricks for the building of the city had all to be dragged hundreds of miles in ox-carts. But no difficulty stopped the growth of the city, and in the solitudes of Africa one of the brightest and gayest cities in the world sprang to life. Soon railways were laid down, and in a few years Johannesburg was connected with Natal, Cape Colony, and Portuguese East Africa, and from the mines a constant stream of gold flowed out to all the world.

This discovery of gold brought a great deal of money to the Republic. In Johannesburg the farmers found a great market for their produce, and in many ways the country grew prosperous. But with new prosperity new troubles arose. Until now the President had been the ruler of simple farmer folk. He or they knew little of books or business, cared little for the outside world and its fierce struggle for wealth.

But now, suddenly, the President found himself called upon to rule a new people, a people keen for business, eager for "progress," impatient of his slow farmer ways. Most of these men who had rushed to Johannesburg were British subjects, and the Boers looked upon them with distrust. They began to fear again for the liberty of their country. So they called these people Uitlanders, that is, Outlanders or strangers, and made it very difficult for them to get any share in the ruling of the country. This made the Outlanders angry, for they wanted to have a share in the governing, and to manage things better than the slow, old-fashioned Boers.

But the Boers said, "No, it is our country. We did not ask you to come, we do not want you to stay, and if you don't like it, you can go away again." But of course the Outlanders did not want to go. They wanted to stay and make money out of the gold mines.

Many things in the South African republic were really badly managed. The Outlanders had some grievances, but the more they complained the more suspicious did the Boers grow. Boer and Briton did not understand each other, and as the years went on anger and bitterness deepened and darkened on both sides.

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