South African Gold, Paul Kruger, and the Krugerrand

South African Gold, Paul Kruger, and the Krugerrand

Legends of gold in South Africa predate the country’s existence, and the ancient gold artifacts from the region have long proven them to be true. Early settlers to Africa were always eager to find this legendary gold, though few had any success. After a few minor gold discoveries, settlers in the 1800s began to set up gold-mining operations. These mines were largely unsuccessful, until 1873, when a hermit named Alec “Wheelbarrow” Patterson scored big.

“Wheelbarrow” Patterson got his nickname because he carried all of his belongings in a wheelbarrow. He worked for the gold-mining outfit MacMac Diggings as a gold miner, or digger, as they were commonly called. The antisocial “Wheelbarrow” wandered off to dig for gold in a secluded part of what was known as Pilgrim’s Creek. The story goes that he found the first large gold deposit, but instead of notifying anyone, the loner just kept on panning. Soon enough, another miner found gold in the same stream. Except this miner, William Trafford, registered his claim with the gold commissioner at MacMac Diggings, thus triggering a massive gold rush, which changed the face of the region forever.

With the discovery of gold in the region, the Dutch and British governments wanted to claim the land then known as Transvaal, which was located in the northern region of what is now South Africa. Though Transvaal was officially an independent nation, the British annexed it in 1877. It was after British annexation that Paul Kruger emerged as a hero for Transvaal independence. His life’s work was establishing Transvaal, also known as the South African Republic, as an independent country once again. Kruger made several trips to Europe to plead the case for Transvaal’s independence. In 1883, after six years of crusading for the cause, his struggle paid off. The South African Republic’s independence was restored, and Kruger was elected president.

Three years into his presidency, more gold was discovered in the region, and that started an even larger gold rush. Kruger established gold-mining policies that made it difficult to export gold. These same policies caused the price of gold production to go up in the country, and made it much more difficult for newcomers to the region to profit. The policies made him very unpopular with many Europeans, but he became a legend to his people.

However, seven years after being elected, Kruger was forced out by British troops, and he fled to Europe. But his contributions to South African independence were never forgotten. In a fitting tribute to the past president, in 1967, South Africa issued the Krugerrand, a one-ounce gold coin featuring a portrait of Paul Kruger on the obverse side, and one of the national symbols—the springbok—on the reverse side.

The Krugerrand was the first gold coin valued for its weight in gold, as opposed to a set denomination. The concept of having a coin’s gold content determine its value revolutionized numismatics. The Kruggerand was the first one-ounce coin ever minted and the first ever bullion coin.

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