JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – As a 21-year-old, Fraser Alexander – who 100 years ago founded the company that still bears his name – was integral to the development of Witwatersrand gold mining in 1886, personally shovelling the first 20 t of ore that proved up the viability of the Main Reef, the author of a just-published centennial book has brought to light for the first time.
Anthony Hocking, the author of Fraser Alexander The First 100 Years, has researched his way through “a yawning black hole” to make known the hitherto unpublished facts about Fraser’s fundamental role in the development of the gold-mining industry on the world’s biggest depository of the precious metal and the South African economy’s biggest single fountain of wealth.
Fraser, who with his cousin Fred founded the still successful and now black-owned Fraser Alexander enterprise in 1912, also pioneered the concept of slimes dams, which continue to be an omnipresent feature of mining the world over, and was among the first to realise the significance of the cyanide process, which saved the entire gold-mining industry from collapse in 1889.
The two founders of this mining, processing, moving, deposition and construction company grew up in the rough and tumble of the Kimberley diamond fields following the emigration of their parents from St Helena to South Africa in the 1870s to join the Diamond Rush.
Among their more important innovations was the use of local reef as the milling agent in tube mills and a technique for building slimes dams that became the industry standard for half a century.
Also the author of Oppenheimer & Son in 1973, Hocking has additionally found that the cortege for Fred’s funeral stretched five kilometres along the streets of Johannesburg, an indication of the kind of influence he commanded after having played rugby for South Africa in the very first two tests against the British Isles in 1891.
Until the publication of Fraser Alexander The First 100 Years, South Africans had also been left with the vague idea that Fraser had been a lowly “dumpsman” at Crown Mines in Johannesburg, Hocking told Mining Weekly Online in the attached video interview.
But recorded now is that Fraser had barely come of age when he began playing a key role at the Jan Bantjes gold-mining camp in Roodepoort, where he produced the first 25 oz of payable gold from Main Reef put through the Struben mine’s stamp mill.
Later he became chief reduction officer at Crown Mines and, as such, the second in command on the mine and, at the time, the most senior such man in the industry.
Hocking, who began with only a photograph Fraser, managed to find the minutes' book from 1947 among the things stored away at the company.
From reading the minutes, in which the company secretaries of those days recorded the entire thrust of boardroom debate, it was clear that in the years following 1947 there had been mayhem in the company and that a palace revolution had been under way to take everything over from the Alexanders.
By comparing initials in the 1947 minutes’ book with those appearing in the Johannesburg telephone director, Hocking came across Moira Alexander, widow of one of Fraser Alexander’s grandsons, who immediately put him in touch her son, Paul Alexander, a graduate historian for whom looking into Alexander antecedents was something of a hobby.
“It was a eureka moment,” said Hocking.
While gathering information about the the first 50 years of Fraser Alexander proved difficult, gathering information about the second 50 years was easy, thanks to the former deputy chairperson Gary Rae, the son-in-law of Ron Daly.
After having succeeded founders Fraser and Fred, the Daly family had become the kings of the castle for 30 years.
It was Rae who brought in a succession of executives including Peter Gain, Peter Flack and Lambert van der Nest, each one of whom “didn’t merely nudge the tiller”, but took the company into “totally unchartered waters”.
Currently wholly owned by Royal Bafokeng Holdings and chaired by Lucas Ndala, Fraser Alexander today dispenses outsourced services to the mining, minerals processing, power generation, petrochemicals and water sectors and constructs related infrastructure to move, manage and add value to minerals, waste and water.
Current CEO Jaap Nel, formerly of BHP Billiton, credits his predecessor, Van der Nest , with taking the company to continually rising levels of collaboration (watch also attached video).
The company has operations in Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana and Mali.
It provides solutions in South America, Australia, Europe and North America, and it is investigating opportunities in Eastern Europe and Asia.
The company addresses the full range of empowerment requirements for previously disadvantaged South Africans and is committed to broad-based black economic empowerment.