Program Speaker - Doug Irving on South Africa
by Nancy L. Attaway
Paul Hlava introduced Doug Irving as the scheduled speaker for tonight.
Doug described his trip to southwest Africa (Namibia) and South Africa that
he made some years ago. Before he began talking about Africa, however, Doug
provided an update on Canadian diamonds. He remarked that three million carats
were being produced per year from the Ekati mine, and that a Canadian diamond
cutting factory has been established. He also mentioned that the Canadian
government was objecting to the logo inscribed on Canadian diamonds, which
the government thinks too closely resembles the official Canadian logo.
Doug Irving began by saying that South Africa is home to significant deposits
of gold and diamonds. Gold ore is found near Johannesburg. The famous Premier
diamond mine lies northeast of Kimberley and east of Pretoria. The diamond-rich
ore of the Premier mine is kimberlite. The Premier mine was discovered by
Thomas Cullinan in 1902.
Doug said that the beach sands of Namibia’s west coast contain alluvial
deposits of very fine quality diamonds. The diamonds found on the coast of
Namibia have been weathered from inland deposits, from kimberlites in the
interior of South Africa, and have traveled downstream. The lesser quality
diamonds have been broken from the action of the tumbling water. The best
quality diamonds remain intact. A railroad worker first found diamonds in
the sand dunes near Kolmanskop, Namibia in 1908. Although there are kimberlites
in Namibia, they do not contain diamonds.
Many of South Africa’s game parks and wildlife preserves are located mainly
in the north and eastern sections, surrounded by tall grass savannas. Doug
said that visitors stay overnight in rondavels, round structures that serve
as motels. The parks and preserves are closed from dusk until dawn to protect
visitors from wild animals. Many place names in South Africa reflect a strong
The famous Kalahari Desert lies north of South Africa and east of Namibia.
The Tropic of Capricorn runs a horizontal line across the central part of
Namibia, the southern part of Botswana, the northern part of South Africa,
and the southern part of Mozambique. South of the Kalahari Desert and also
between the Kalahari Desert and Namibia lies a vast region of desert shrub.
Very little vegetation grows along the west coast of Namibia.
Tsumeb lies in the north-central part of Namibia and is home to many world
famous mineral specimens, such as the magnificent examples of the rich green
and blue-green hexagonal crystals of dioptase. Ore from the copper, lead,
zinc, and silver mines there all showed high concentrations of arsenic. Doug
remarked that over two hundred different minerals were unearthed from the
mines, however, they are all now closed. When Doug visited the area, he noticed
that the drivers of the tour buses were actually armed commandos. Doug mentioned
that airplanes had to fly at an altitude of 18,000 feet to avoid getting shot
down by missiles.
Doug showed slides of Aranda, a large uranium mine, where 170 tons per load
by truck is mined. The work force lives nearby, and mineworkers have access
to great medical and educational facilities. Doug also discussed the Ornetis
mine, an underground copper and silver mine. He remarked that the region which
encompasses Namibia’s mining area receives less than one inch of rain per
year, where 300-foot high sand dunes and 1,000 year old plants may be found.
Doug also visited the Namibian coastline, where diamonds were first dredged
in 1965. Massive sea walls hold back the ocean during the mining of diamond-bearing
terraces in the foreshore to depths of 66 feet below sea level. An offshore
dike was built to mine the gravel. Doug explained that diamonds are found
between the gravel and the bedrock. He noticed that workers swept diamonds
by hand and labored in an area that was entirely cordoned off from visitors.
This area was very heavily guarded. The workers usually stay six to nine months
at a time.
Doug described how mechanized shape-sorters for diamonds at the mines in
Namibia turned 3,000 cycles per second. Sorting was done by hand to separate
diamonds from the concentrate. Most diamonds found there are colorless, but
some colored diamonds are found. As many as 3,000 carats of diamonds are mined
per day. Doug mentioned that the mine managers must keep the different tribes
separated or fights will occur. Some of the cultures are very different, and
some of the tribes remain old enemies to this day.
Doug was interested in the mining history and visited some of the mining
museums. Some of these museums displayed the old machinery used in the early
days of mining.
Doug described one of the underground gold mines that descended nearly 8,000
feet into the earth. Doug said that underground gold mines are very labor
intensive. Gold is poured into bars that weigh 1,000 ounces. Gold bars are
then stacked on wooden frames known as wood packs. Under the tremendous weight
of the gold, the wood is slowly squeezed until it all settles. Metal frames
are not used, as they would be too brittle and would break. One gold mine
now goes down to 12,000 feet, and there are plans to go down to 15,000 feet.
Doug said that gold was formed in ancient placers that were washed downstream.
Doug visited Pretoria, the legislative capital of South Africa. Pretoria
lies north of Johannesburg. He visited a mining operation where carbonate,
copper, phosphate, magnetite, gold, and silver were all mined. Doug went to
Barberton, northwest of Swaziland, to visit gold mines in that area, where
30 tons of gold have been extracted.
Doug described Capetown as an old and very picturesque colonial city. He
said that Table Mountain, the famous geologic feature of Capetown, is an old
sandstone. The southern region of South Africa along the coast is a very mountainous.
Capetown is located at the tip of South Africa. The area receives enough
rainfall to sustain a Mediterranean-like vegetation. Several vineyards grow
varieties of fine white vines. Doug visited the Shellanvosch Vineyards and
sampled some of their product.
Doug stated that a special permit, issued by both the mine and the government,
is required to convey gold out of South Africa. The world demand for gold
now runs 3,500 tons per year, or one hundred million ounces. In the US, 27,000
tons of gold are housed in Ft. Knox. Most of the demand for gold is industrial,
as used in computer circuits.
Doug announced that a new lease has been issued in Tsumeb to explore the
upper reaches of the mine for more of the fabulous dioptase specimens. He
remarked that many fine specimens were destroyed just to obtain whatever copper
had been present in the specimen. Some of these specimens were truly magnificent
and measured three feet tall.
Thank you, Doug for sharing your South African tour!