As the highest peak in what was then known as the Transvaal (now Mpumalanga), Mount Anderson is a spectacle of imposing grandeur to visitors to the property. In the 1920s Prime Minister Jan Smuts wrote that the escarpment around Mount Anderson contained some of the most magnificent scenery of the entire African continent. Although encircled by a modern road system, Mount Anderson still remains isolated and inaccessible. Much of the history of the region took place on and in close proximity to Mount Anderson.
Apart from the immense beauty of Mount Anderson and it’s immense hydrological significance being, quite literally, the wellspring of the water supply in Mpumalanga, the property also has interesting and complex geological features. In the 1870s, the region was part of the first South African gold rush, and in the 1920s and 1930s, Mount Anderson had a brief gold rush of its own when the Mount Anderson Gold Field supported prosperous little mines such as Golden Hill, Jackpot, Little Joker, Formosa and Finsbury. The abandoned workings can still be seen and provide a glimpse of the fascinating human drama that digging for riches in this craggy landscape entailed.
The name of Mount Anderson commemorates two Irish brothers who were surveyors in the Transvaal (now known as Mpumalanga) – William Alfred Blackburn Anderson and Harry Mitchell Anderson. In 1883 William surveyed the boundaries of the farm Hartebeesvlakte 163JT, which borders on Mount Anderson, and gave his name to the peak – Mount Anderson (which is actually on the property’s mountaintop). At 2,284m, Mount Anderson was for many years thought to be the highest point in the Transvaal, but a survey done a few decades ago showed that De Berg (2,331m), in the Steenkampsberg to the west, was slightly higher. Mount Anderson comprises three old Transvaal settler properties – Kranskloof 554KT, Kliprots 158JT and 158KT, and Goedverwacht 152JT.
Mount Anderson’s height, steep and inhospitable landscape, harsh climate and lack of natural shelter made it unattractive to the early nomadic hunter-gatherers, the San (bushmen). Therefore, although there are rock paintings in the area, only one has been found on the Mount Anderson Water Reserve. By contrast the rich, well-watered grasslands in the river below and the area of nearby Sterkspruit, proved extremely attractive to later Iron-age pastoralists.
The first modern, late Iron-age people to live close to Mount Anderson – perhaps as early as the 1500s, were the Kwena people. In the 18th Century the Pedi – a Central Sotho group – arrived in the district.
In the lower reaches of the Ohrigstad River Valley on Mount Anderson, one can see the ruins of African settlements. Although now overgrown with grass, they still show a typical circular kraal construction, which has what could have been the site of a hut in the centre.
The earliest white settlers in the Mount Anderson area were the Voortrekkers, and the later stories of the region are intimately intertwined up with theirs. The followers of Andries Hendrik Potgieter, who founded the town of Andries Ohrigstad in 1845, first settled the district. Situated in an extremely attractive valley, Ohrigstad promised to be agriculturally fertile and seemed suitable for tropical agriculture. But just three years after its establishment, the town was abandoned because of recurrent outbreaks of deadly malaria. Potgieter and his supporters left Ohrigstad and went north, founding Schoemansdal. After another disastrous year at Ohrigstad the people who had stayed behind, move south to Lydenburg or “the town of suffering”, the name commemorating the hardships its founders had endured. Until 1923, when the new municipality town was laid out, Ohrigstad was a ghost town.
For decades there was no unity among the Voortrekker parties. Each owed allegiance to a strong leader, every one of whom was unwilling to either relinquish his power or to share it. From the 1840s until 1852 there were four Voortrekker republics – Lydenburg (with its capital at Lydenburg), Zoutpansberg, Potchefstroom and Utrecht. Even after the Sand River Convention, friction and dissension among the factions continued. By 1857, feelings in Lydenburg ran so high that the population broke away from the Transvaal and formed a republic of their own. Only in 1860 did Lydenburg re-join the South African Republic and swear allegiance to its president Marthinus Wessel Pretorius.
Little exploitative mineral wealth had been located between Cape Town and the Fish and Kei Rivers in the two centuries subsequent to the landing of Jan van Riebeek at the Cape. Then in 1848 and 1851 respectively, the gold fields in California and Victoria were discovered, and some interest began to develop in South Africa as the news spread.
The Volksraad in the Transvaal, wishing to preserve their rural peace, took a firm stand against prospecting. However, restrictive edicts have seldom proved to be a barrier to progress, and various individuals began exploration. Gold was discovered in the Lydenburg District, in the Murchison Hills (Gravelotte) in 1868/70, the Sutherland Range (along the Shingwedzi and Letaba Rivers) and around Mount Anderson and Mauch. Concerning this area, gold was located in and along both sides of the Spekboom River on the farm Nooitgedacht, situated between Natalshoop and Finsbury.
However, since the state retained all the rights, these fields were neither publicised nor exploited because of the fear of confiscation. Throughout its early history the Transvaal was almost bankrupt, and its currency worthless because there was no gold backing on any export earnings of consequence. Slowly it began to dawn on some of the Volksraad that gold mining would be of benefit to the people. On 21 December 1870, the Volksraad accepted the principle of rewarding discoverers of precious metals, and this was given immediate legal authority. The following year the first formal mining law was passed. It reserved the right to mine to the State, which would control mining through a commissioner and no foreigner could own a gold mine.
Numerous prospectors advised the Landdrost (Landdrost was the title of various officials with local jurisdiction – Dutch origin) at Lydenburg that gold had been discovered in his extensive district. Prospectors soon began to stream in, and in no time digging at Lydenburg had moved upstream along the Spekboom River into the farms Finsbury, Little Joker, Formosa and De Kuilen. There is no record of the gold output between 1873 and 1877, but most would have come from the Sabie/Graskop/Pilgrim’s sector, rather than from Ohrigstad/Lydenburg deposits.
The Siege of Lydenburg
The Transvaal Republic was on the verge of bankruptcy by 1877, and President Burgers retained only the most tenuous hold over his subjects. This crisis in the Transvaal coincided with a renewed effort on the part of Britain to consolidate its holdings in southern Africa, and to include the Boer republics in a federation of states under British hegemony. The moment came on 12 April 1877, when the Transvaal was annexed and Sir Theophilus Shepstone – the influential administrator from Natal – raised the Union Jack in Pretoria. At first the Boers seemed resigned to their lot, pleased to allow British troops to quell African resistance (especially successful in the case of the Pedi), and to implement a more efficient and effective form of administrative government in the country.
Once this was accomplished, however, dissatisfaction surfaced and by the end of 1880, the Boers were ready to dislodge their overlords. Fearing such an uprising, the British had already stationed garrisons in the major Transvaal towns of Pretoria, Potchefstroom, Rustenburg and Lydenburg. The Transvaal war of 1880-1881 is best known for the ignominious defeat of the British at Mujaba in February 1881, which ended the battle.
After peace had been restored to the Transvaal, the new president, Paul Kruger, proved a stronger and more popular leader than his predecessor. In addition, the search for gold continued and valuable strikes were made almost every year. Mining operations were facilitated by new legislation. While each digger had in the past paid a small license fee to the government, the new arrangement was that the government awarded concessions to people who wished to begin mining operations. Companies that were better financed, and therefore able to maximise both the technical and financial aspects of mining, and therefor eventually replaced individual diggers.
The Battle of Long Tom Pass
The first part of the South African war was characterised by battles and sieges. Ladysmith, Mafeking, Paardekraal, Spionkop and Colenso are names that featured in some of the major events. When the British entered Pretoria, the capital of the enemy, in June 1900, they expected the yearlong war to be over and the Boers to capitulate. Instead, the Boer government merely abandoned Pretoria and set up operations at Waterval Onder in the Eastern Transvaal. Another two years of fighting ensued. Guerilla warfare was prevalent all over the country, and some important action took place around Mount Anderson.
Around May 1900 British generals became aware that Lydenburg was being prepared for defense and that large supplies of arms and goods were being stored there. British forces were mobilised to the eastern Transvaal, but it was not until the Battle of Belfast (Bergendal) on 27 August that major combat took place. This was a great victory for General Sir Redvers Henry Buller, and the Boers retreated to Lydenburg. However, the Boers were no match for the massive British force that opposed them and Lydenburg was captured on 6 September without resistance. But the enemy did not surrender. Instead they retreated to the farm Paardeplaats, high ground just southwest of Mount Anderson, from where they opened fire with their long-range guns. The following day Louis Botha’s Long Toms* on Paardeplaats commanded Lydenburg and its military camp outside the town – there was nothing to do but to attack Paardeplaats and the Boers were forced to retreat closer to Spitskop.
On 9 September the Boers were still holding some of the rocky ridges around Mount Anderson along the Long Tom Pass. A British force was sent after them and managed to almost reach the summit of the mountains. The Boers appeared to be and easy target, but the track was steep, cramped and winding and the Boers had placed their guns behind the Devil’s Knuckles, at the point where there is today a monument and replica of one of their guns. Because of the narrow path, the British guns could not be brought from the rear to the front of the column to retaliate, and by the next day, the Boers were disappearing. The Boers had made good use of the natural fortress provided by the mountains and had escaped both death – and capture – in their shadow.
The Second Gold Rush
After the South African war ended and peace was restored, prospectors were free to resume their work around the Transvaal. By this time, the Witwatersrand dominated the gold mining industry and it had become clear that the mines of the eastern Transvaal held little prospect for long-term significant prosperity.
Forestry activities have obliterated much of the montane grasslands in the area and, whilst no doubt visually attractive to some visitors, these exotic plantations are extremely damaging to the natural environment as they require in the region of 100 litres of underground water in order to survive. South Africa is not a water-rich country, and the forests of gum and pine trees consume far more than the rivers flowing down from the Mount Anderson Water Reserve can produce. Many streams that once rushed through the gold fields of Lydenburg now flow only intermittently, or have even ceased. The problem is compounded when the sources of these streams are themselves choked by exotic vegetation and polluted by excessive numbers of livestock. The Mount Anderson Water Catchment Reserve has rehabilitated the highland streams, and its existence is therefore vital to the health of the water system of Mpumalanga. The water from the streams on the property is among the purest in the world.
Despite an unpromising start, the Mount Anderson mining industry developed in the twentieth century, and in 1914 the area was opened to prospecting and digging. The workings of the Nooitgedacht reef created a stir at this time, and the farm was opened as a “public diggings” and called the Mount Anderson Goldfields. As a result, in the mid 1920s, the Mount Anderson fields were still attracting the same kinds of characters that had flocked to the district in the 1870s.
The depression in South Africa ended in 1933 when the country joined Great Britain and others in abandoning the gold standard. This was an extremely controversial move at the time, and one that toppled the current South African government. Immediately the gold price rose from £4.25 per ounce to £6.23 per ounce and it continued to rise steadily until by 1939 it had reached £7.70. Naturally, this huge increase brought small mining operations back into the economic picture and Mount Anderson received a tremendous boost. A company with the romantic name of Golden Hill Mines bought out a number of small claims on the farm Kranskloof and it is their workings and other paraphernalia that can be seen on the ranch today.
The Mount Anderson Gold Field and its reefs Nooitgedacht, Davidson, Button and Formosa, have left their mark on South African mining history. This lode was opened up from Kliprots to De Kuilen and worked until the gold ran out.