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At the bottom of the continent, under the soil of Southern Africa, lies a very old and huge rock. Called the Kaapval craton, this massive geologic formation is over 2.6 billion years old, and is one of the most stable continental formations on the planet.

But this is no ordinary rock. The Kaapval craton contains some of the world's richest mineral deposits, ranging from gold and diamonds to platinum and asbestos.

Their presence has shaped the modern history of Southern Africa.

In 1870, a gigantic deposit of diamonds was found near the South African town of Kimberley. Just 16 years later, the world's largest deposits of gold were found at Witwatersrand in South Africa's central Transvaal region. The region boomed.

But so did conflict between black and white. Competition for land grew. Germany seized Namibia. Cecil Rhodes, owner of De Beers, grabbed the Zimbabwe plateau to form the colony of Rhodesia. In South Africa, white landowners and mine owners' demands for special privileges escalated. Beginning in 1910, a series of laws were introduced that restricted black ownership of the land and limited skilled, high-paying mining jobs to whites. The framework for the policy of apartheid was laid.

Nearly a century later, with apartheid disbanded, the struggle to overcome the past lives on. Dominated by South Africa, the region is dogged by the legacy of racial and economic disparity, the ravages of mining and wars. And now, an even more vicious threat lurks: AIDS. Southern Africa has among the world's highest rates of HIV infection. Though much has been done to overcome the epidemic, much still remains to be done, burnishing still further Southern Africa's reputation for courage amidst adversity.

AllAfrica.com

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