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Jade Davenport

Jade Davenport

DAVENPORT, MA (UCT), is a freelance journalist and historian – jade@engineeringnews.co.za

Columnist - Digging Deep

Just who discovered the Wits Main Reef Series?

By: Jade Davenport While it is known that gold was found, and even exploited, at various places across the Witwatersrand prior to 1886, the fact remains that the most pivotal watershed moment in that early history of gold mining was the discovery of the Main Reef Series on the farm Langlaagte in the early months of... 

Reflecting on the long-destroyed Struben Monument

By: Jade Davenport It has been a year since the controversial activities of the #RhodesMustFall protest movement at the University of Cape Town, which resulted in the removal of a bronze statue of Cecil John Rhodes from a prominent position on the university's upper campus, catalysed a spate of monument and statue... 

The Confidence of the Wits basin

By: Jade Davenport It has been established that the discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand basin was not a sudden, Eurekalike event but rather a protracted affair, which, at least according to the colonial-era historiography, dates back to the 1830s. While that may be true, it was only half a century later that the... 

Fred Struben and Wits gold discovery

By: Jade Davenport In the process of popularising the history of the discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand much of the early narrative was sidelined in favour of a crisp, uncomplicated tale in which George Harrison was the first to stumble across the auriferous conglomerate outcrop in February 1886, some 130 years... 

The when, how and by whom controversy of Wits gold discovery

By: Jade Davenport One of the most curious realities of South Africa’s mining history is that the precise details relating the discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand, an event that was to irrevocably alter the economic and socio-political trajectory of the country, are quite vague. In fact, the ‘when, how and by... 

History repeating itself as SA’s mining sector finds itself in turmoil

By: Jade Davenport One fundamental truth about the march of human progression is that, as much as things may change, they stay the same. Put another way, history has a habit of repeating itself, although not always in the most obvious of manners. Take, for instance, the turmoil in which the South African mining... 

The fate of the Cullinan diamond

By: Jade Davenport The announcement of the discovery of 1 111 ct and 813 ct diamonds, the second- and sixth-largest gem-quality diamonds ever discovered, made headlines the world over two weeks ago. While the news has been generally greeted with awe and excitement, the discovery has also provided a platform for... 

The slogan of the century

By: Jade Davenport In 1999, Advertising Age magazine described ‘A Diamond is Forever’ as the “best advertising slogan” of the twentieth century. This is no understatement, for that iconic one liner not only dramatically improved the status symbol of the gemstones from the 1950s onwards but also cemented the diamond... 

Cullinan House up for sale

By: Jade Davenport Having bequeathed his name to the world’s largest gem-quality diamond ever discovered, it was inevitable that Sir Thomas Cullinan’s enduring legacy would be most closely associated with South African diamond mining and, more particularly, the 3 106 ct Cullinan diamond. In fact, it was precisely... 

The Cullinan diamond mystery

By: Jade Davenport My native suburb of Kensington, Johannesburg, could have been mistaken for the Wild West two weeks ago, when, in the midst of early morning traffic, a gun battle erupted during what is believed was an attempted diamond heist. It is alleged that at least five gunmen began firing at a security... 

End of an era for iconic Rand Club

By: Jade Davenport At the end of September, the Rand Club, Johannesburg’s oldest club, and certainly one of its most iconic social clubs, closed its doors. The Rand Club was part of Johannesburg’s 129-year history and was also symbolic of the inner city’s struggle between urban decay and renewal, owing to its... 

A monument to SA’s first gold mining efforts

By: Jade Davenport The Eersteling Gold Mine, the site of the first commercial gold mining activity in South Africa’s modern history, has, in many instances, been relegated to mere footnote status in our mining historiography. While this may hardly be surprising, given that those pioneering mining efforts were... 

In the shadow of a derelict asbestos mine

By: Jade Davenport For the last three decades, mounting evidence has identified asbestos, a silicate mineral composed of thin fibrous crystals, as one of the most hazardous natural minerals on earth. What makes asbestos so dangerous, particularly to humans, is the fact that, when the millions of microscopic fibrils... 

Flying the flag for South African geotourism

By: Jade Davenport The highly niche sector of geotourism, defined as travel to and appreciation of natural landscapes and geological phenomena, could be perceived by anyone other than a geologist or even a miner  to be a 'leisure activity' that fits firmly in the realm of the dull. Indeed, not many people could... 

The mining town that is better than the south

By: Jade Davenport As far as the longevity of South African towns is concerned, Phalaborwa, the self-proclaimed tourist capital of Limpopo province, is the new kid on the block, having only been founded in 1958. As with many towns across the country, Phalaborwa was established to service the needs of a burgeoning... 

Mpumalanga natural wonders’ Scottish connection

By: Jade Davenport If you have ever driven along the majestic Panorama Route, on the edge of the Drakensberg Escarpment, in Mpumulanga, you will have noticed that the natural wonders that line the route bear the most curious of names. Indeed, tourist hot spots such as MacMac Falls, Bourkes Luck and Lisbon Falls... 

Historic mine manager’s house celebrates centenary

By: Jade Davenport   South Africa’s historical mining narrative has placed much emphasis on detailing the harsh living conditions of black migrant mineworkers, who were housed in single-sex, often closed, compounds for much of the twentieth century. Very seldom has that narrative detailed the lifestyle of those who... 

Tati – the site of Southern Africa’s first gold rush

By: Jade Davenport South Africa’s modern economy was built largely on the back of the exploitation of the extensive but low-grade goldfield that is the Witwatersrand basin. Such has been that sector’s sheer dominance that South African historiography, in general, has tended to focus on the narrative of the... 

The anti-German riots that drove Oppenheimer out of Kimberley

By: Jade Davenport At first glance, the centenary of the Lusitania disaster, in which 1 195 of 1 959 passengers drowned when the cruiseliner was torpedoed by a German U-boat 11 miles off the Irish coast on May 7, 1915, would appear to have nothing to do with the history of South Africa’s mining industry. However,... 

And then there was light

By: Jade Davenport There is no doubt that South Africa is in the midst of a social, political and economic crisis of unparalleled proportions, at least as far as the last 21 years of nonracial democracy is concerned. At the helm of South Africa’s plight, specifically from the economic perspective, is the... 

Tourist for a day in the City of Gold

By: Jade Davenport If you are a resident of Johannesburg and have ever had visitors come to stay, be they local or foreign, you have probably been confronted with the conundrum of what to do and where to take them to get a real feel for the history of the place.  On the surface, it may seem that there is a distinct... 

#RhodesMustFall debate

By: Jade Davenport The contentious debate surrounding the removal of the statue of pioneering mining magnate and British imperialist Cecil John Rhodes has, yet again, flared up. However, this time, given the actions of the University of Cape Town (UCT) Students Representative Council president – throwing human... 

The beginnings of the Thabazimbi mine

By: Jade Davenport The future of one of South Africa’s oldest operating mines, the Thabazimbi iron-ore mine, in the North West, is underscrutiny owing to the drastic slump in iron-ore prices over the past 12 months having rendered the mining of the deposit in the current manner distinctly unprofitable. Kumba Iron... 

The historic goldfields of Nkandla district

By: Jade Davenport Of all the issues marring South African politics, and the state of the nation, for that matter, at this juncture Nkandla, or rather the excessively expensive upgrades made to President Jacob Zuma’s palatial home in that district, ranks as the most controversial. As pre-eminent South African... 

Trendy market gives new lease of life to historic Joburg mining warehouses

By: Jade Davenport Johannesburg is, and has been, many things but 'historically sentimental' is not one of them. From its very establishment, the quintessential city of gold was a dynamic, constantly evolving urban settlement entirely fixated on industrial progress and wealth creation. Indeed, for the most part,... 

The dynamite explosion that devastated a fledgling Joburg

By: Jade Davenport From its establishment Johannesburg has always been a fast-paced and dangerous place to live and work in. Indeed, being a city built on the exploitation of man’s ultimate symbol of wealth and with its economy entirely dominated, at least in its earlier decades, on the most risky of professions, a... 

New booklet on the historic cemetery of Pilgrim’s Rest

By: Martin Zhuwakinyu It will, perhaps, come as little surprise that I have a penchant for historical cemeteries. On a personal level, I find that cemeteries, and the graves in them, provide a unique and fascinating opportunity to learn more about not only one’s ancestors and family heritage but also the communities... 

South Africa’s historical gold nuggets

By: Jade Davenport It is a well-recited fact that South Africa has produced roughly a third of the entire stock of gold on earth. While the country is undoubtedly the most historically prolific producer, there has always been a certain romantic element lacking in the type of gold extracted from the bowels of that... 

Natural treasures of the Gold Rush countries

By: Jade Davenport A buzz of excitement swept through the historic gold mining state of California, US, at the end of October, when a recently discovered 75 oz gold nugget was put on show and sold for about $400 000. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the rare clump of gold, which has been christened the... 

Kudos to De Beers

By: Jade Davenport Last month I had the pleasure of being hosted by De Beers while on a visit to South Africa’s historic city of diamonds. For a historian interested in South Africa’s mining sector, a company such as De Beers, as well as its home town of Kimberley, is pure gold – or glittering diamonds, as the case... 

Museum paying tribute to Natal’s coal mining heritage

By: Jade Davenport I was recently  invited to attend a friend’s wedding at the Thendele Camp of the Royal Natal National Park, overlooking the magnificent amphitheatre of the Drakensberg mountain range. I had been meaning to take a trip to Natal for quite some time if only to visit the Talana museum, in Dundee, a... 

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