Historical characters of the Eastern Transvaal

Written by Nick Grabe

  • MAUCH, Karl, * Germany (✡?), arrived in South Africa ~1868. Drew first geological map of Transvaal, pronounced there was gold in the district.


  • BEIT, Alfred, *15 February 1853 Hamburg, Germany (✡). Beit was sent to Kimberley in 1875 by Jules Porges & Co. as a diamond buyer. He was a close friend of Cecil Rhodes and together they gained control of most of the Kimberley output via De Beers Mine. He worked with Hermann Eckstein and Sir Joseph Robinson to build further companies including Wernher, Beit & Co and the Robertson Syndicate. He put a lot of effort into developing infrastructure in Southern Africa, including Northern and Southern Rhodesia (Zambia and Zimbabwe). He founded the British South Africa Company in 1888 and moved to London in the same year. He supported the Jameson Raid in 1895. Beit Bridge – the border crossing between South Africa and Zimbabwe is named after Alfred Beit. He wanted to marry Cockney Liz of Barberton where he was a regular at the Barberton Club with Sammy Marks and Percy Fitzpatrick.


  • OPPENHEIMER, Ernest, * 22.5.1880, Friedberg, Hesse-Nassau, Germany a Jew, arrived in South Africa in 1902, after spending a few years sorting diamonds in London, where had also became naturalised Briton, and in June 1906 married Mary (May) Pollak, and whilst residing here on the diamond fields was elected to the city council of Kimberley in 1908 and was the three-time mayor of Kimberley from 1912 until he was forced to resign in 1915 due to anti-German riots, despite his efforts of raising a second battalion of the Kimberley Regiment. The Germans in Namibia killed off 90% of the Herero population and 70% of the Nama (san) population.

He became an industrialist, financier, and one of the most successful leaders in the mining industry in South Africa and Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). Ernest established the Anglo-American Corporation of South Africa on 25.9.1917 with borrowed and investment American Capital. In 1919 he formed Consolidated Diamond Mines (CDM) by taking over the diamond fields in South West Africa (Namibia), the previously German colony administered by South Africa from 1914 onwards.

The main hub was at Oranjemund after the depletion of the mining at Kolmanskop near Lüderitz. In 1921 he was knighted for his war efforts against Germany and was elected to parliament in 1924, where he remained until 1938. Also in 1924, he became chairman of the newly formed African Explosives and Industries group (African Explosives and Chemical Industries from 1944, and abbreviated to AECI in 1972). The explosives industry was brought to SA by a Hungarian Alois Nelmapius who bought the patent off Nobel. Nelmapius put up the factory on the Farm Irene, near Pretoria.

Ernest took over control of De Beers in 1929 from his cousin Fritz Hirschhorn. He expanded his control of gold mining in the Orange Free State from 1940 to 1945 and took control of several smaller mining houses which became part of Anglo-American on 25.11.1957, Johannesburg, South Africa.

It was the prospector, another German Jew, Karl Mauch, that predicted the finding of gold in Mpumalanga and a Scotsman, named Tom McLachlan, believed in Mauch’s predictions and spearheaded the gold mining there. Harrison at Langlaagte and the brothers Struben in Wilgeheuwel played a great roll in this industry there in the beginning. Percy Fitzpatrick, of Jock fame also later played a major role. There were many of the Gold Magnates from Barberton area that had a major role in the Gold mining at Randjeslaagte, today (Johannesburg).


Part two will be published in the next edition of GPS News.


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