The Kinross Mine, today merged into the Evander Goldfield, is one of the largest, most productive, and famous (and perhaps infamous!) gold mines in South Africa. It is located immediately west of the village of Evander, a short distance from the town of Kinross, in Mpumalanga Province (prior to 1994, part of Transvaal Province), a little over 100 km west of Johannesburg.
Kinross lies on the extreme easternmost tip of the Witwatersrand Basin, the world’s greatest gold bearing geological zone; and specifically, on the Kimberly Reef formation. Gold had been commercially exploited along the Witwatersrand since 1886, leading the establishment of Johannesburg that same year. The region’s gold production was so enormous, that it dramatically altered geopolitics, motivating Britain to invade and conquer the Afrikaans republics of the Orange Free State and the Transvaal (in which the Kinross would later be created) during the Second Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902). The gold mining industry was dramatically expanded during British colonial times, with new mines being opened continuously, and South Africa easily rising to be by far and away the world largest gold producer.
In 1951, the Union Corporation Limited (since consumed by BHP Billiton) discovered massive gold deposits at the site of the Kinross Mine, as well in on adjacent properties. Vast resources were invested to build massive underground mining operations at Kinross, which came fully online in 1965, becoming one of the largest gold mines in the country. A vast, continuously growing network of subterranean channels and infrastructure was created to a maximum depth of over a mile underground, or 1,626 meters (5,335 feet).
Focusing upon the present map, it is a colossal (1.9 x 1.7 metres!) ‘master plan’ of the subterranean aspects of the Kinross mine, made by engineers for the internal, operational use of senior managers at the Kinross Mines Ltd. The plan showcases a vast network of interconnected drifts (horizontal tunnels), ramps (vertical passages connecting different levels), and benches fanning out with diggings. All details are precisely labelled, including sophisticated statistical information, both printed on the map and upon numerous pastedown labels, while red arrows in manuscript red crayon indicate the main directions of travel.
Needless, to saw very few original master pans of such enormous mines survive, and as such it provides a rare and peerless insight in the nature of gold operations during a heady time for the international industry.
Sometime after the present pan was made, the Kinross mine became globally famous (or infamous), for the ‘Kinross Mining Disaster’, which occurred on September 16, 1986. On that date, an acetylene tank caught fire in one of the underground drifts, spreading quickly. In the end, 177 miners were killed, 278 were injured and one miner disappeared, in what was the country’s greatest mining disaster since 1946.
The tragedy gained world headlines and was PR nightmare for the South Africa’s ruling Apartheid regime (which was already thoroughly discredited), bringing to light the generally poor safely conditions experienced by the country’s largely black miners. Indeed, between 1900 and 1993, 69,000 miners were killed by mining accidents (most of which were considered to have been avoidable with basic proper care). The Kinross disaster helped to frame mining safety as a civil rights issue, as opposed to just a matter of safety.
The media attention in the wake of Kinross disaster was in good part responsible for making the name of Cyril Ramaphosa (born 1952), the young head of the South African National Union of Mineworkers Union. He successfully shamed the country’ s mining establishment and the Apartheid regime, remarking “We are horrified that this type of accident can take place in this day and age in the mining industry…In our view we are obviously back to the dark ages of mining – and there doesn‘t seem to be much improvement in safety standards”. Ramaphosa later became the general secretary of the African National Congress (ANC) and one of Nelson Mandela’s chief lieutenants. Today, Ramaphosa is the President of South Africa.
The Kinross mine was subsequently merged with the adjacent properties of the Leslie, Bracken and Windelhaak mines, to form the Evander Goldfield, although Kinross continues to operate as a physically distinct mine. While the Evander field went through some tough times time during the slump in the industry, the recent rise in gold prices had led to something of a revival. Today, the Evander Goldfield, including Kinross, is owned by the Hong Kong-based company, Tuang Gold International Ltd.
References: N / A – Unrecorded confidential internal corporate document.