25
The Iron and Steel Industries

The Growth of the Iron and Steel Industry

Iron ores are of widespread occurrence in the Transvaal, Natal, Zululand, and Griqualand where ancient workings, accumulations of slag and the re mains of old furnaces1 remind us that they were extensively worked long before the coming of the Europeans. In places the oxides - ochre and specularite - were used in the making of pigments for painting the body and powdering the hair, in others the ores were smelted and tools and weapons made. Today, in remote parts of Natal and the Transvaal, iron is occasionally smelted by the methods which have been in use probably for thousands of years, clay or ant-heap hearths and goatskin bellows being employed. The practice is, however, dying out.

While the indigenous iron industry is thus very old, the modern industry established by the Europeans is relatively young. The iron ore of Prestwick, Natal, was discovered around 18602 and titaniferous deposits north of Pretoria about ten years later. In 1901 a small blast furnace was erected near Pietermaritzburg but was commercially unsuccessful. In 1908 the Government Mining Engineer urged the desirability of establishing an iron and steel industry, and pointed out that steel could be manufactured at a profit from scrap iron in small electric furnaces. Between 1911 and 1916 four plants were successfully established, three of them on the Witwatersrand Goldfield and one, the Union Steel Corporation (USCO), the only one to receive government assistance, on the Vaal river at Vereeniging. All depended on the mines and the railways both for their supplies of scrap and for their principal markets.3 The first world war severely curtailed the import of iron and steel and their consequent shortage and high price provided a great impetus for the home industry. Systematic surveys of the deposits of iron ore revealed large reserves and in 1917 two small blast furnaces were erected in Pretoria and Vereeniging to test their suitability for the production of pig iron. The Vereeniging furnace was short-lived but the one at Pretoria operated successfully until 1921. Further expansion, however, was handicapped by the post-war depression, the collapse of steel prices and the

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