If you think of gold, you probably think of the city of Johannesburg or eGoli, the place of gold. This came about as the direct result of the discovery of an outcrop of a gold reef on the Witwatersrand in 1886. But, believe it or not, at one point in history, Durban too was home to gold mines, or so the rumour went!
Donald Davies, a civil engineer by profession and a local history enthusiast, has spent the past decade hunting for Durban’s elusive gold mines. His search began after he read an article about the Witwatersrand gold rush in the history publication, Natalia.
(The article) referred to a person called Ekstein who became a mining magnate, driving an adit* into the mountain halfway between Table Mountain** and Pietermaritzburg. I thought, ‘That’s just up the road….”
Davies spent the next seven years visiting the area, gathering clues from local farmers, some of whom had heard about the existence of a gold mine in the area. While for many years Davies didn’t have much luck locating the mine, he did learn a lot about Natal’s history of gold mining.
It seems at one point KwaZulu-Natal had as many as 400 gold workings. In 1853, the Natal Government had offered a reward of £1000 to anyone who discovered gold, thus encouraging would-be prospectors. A conglomerate of merchants who had decided to make Natal their permanent home were offering a substantial £5000 for proof of gold in the province!
In 1905, the prospector, Nathan Young, going on a rumour that gold was to be found in the Queensburgh area, tried his luck and dug a shaft, only to be sadly disappointed as there was none to be found. Attempts were also made to mine gold in Bellair, Sarnia and Escombe, with further attempts on the south and north coast. Sadly though, none yielded any real success and gradually most of the mining operations shut down. By the 1930s only two mines were still functioning, one at Dumisa, near Umzinto, and the other at Itala Game Reserve.
So after years of research and investigations it was with huge excitement that Davies eventually happened upon the entrance to the abandoned gold mine, located on a steep slope above the Msundusi River:
I pushed through and as I came across a platform, for some reason, I just knew that I had found it. I looked down and there was the adit into the mountain… When you go inside, you can clearly see the places where the candles were put. Lighting must have been a challenge… A vein of white quartz at the abit, as mining tunnels are called, has been mineralised to a rusty colour. Geologists tell us the more rusty coloured the quartz is, the more likely the chance of finding gold in the quartz and up against it”, Davies said.
Now the hunt is on to locate the gold mine that is rumored to have been located in Bellair. Davies believes the mine was blocked up as the area became developed, so finding the entrance will be a challenge, but nothing that he isn’t prepared for!
* An adit is a nearly horizontal passage which leads into a mine
** The reference is to the Table Mountain that’s located in the uMgungundlovu District, not the more famous mountain in Cape Town