All The Times Earthquakes Have Happened In South Africa and What To Expect

Most, if not all, countries have had their fair share of natural disasters that have destroyed lives and properties, even though nobody prays to experience such. Although South Africa is not one of those countries that should be prone to earthquakes, it seems to be the natural disaster that has affected South Africa the most. Learning about all previous earthquakes that the country has faced can help you know what to expect. Some earthquakes could be weak and barely felt, while others could be so strong that lives and properties would be lost. South Africa, over the years, has experienced both types of quakes.

What Are The Causes Of Earthquakes In South Africa?

Earthquakes are usually caused when underground rocks suddenly break along a fault that causes a sudden release of energy and, in turn, makes the ground shake. Underground explosions can trigger earthquakes, and they are usually used intentionally by man when making tunnels for subways, roads, and mining.

According to Professor Andrzej Kijko from the University of Pretoria‘s Natural Hazard Centre, mining is the major cause of earthquakes in South Africa. It has caused up to 95% of earthquakes in the country, especially in South Africa’s rich mining cities like Klerksdorp, Carletonville, and Welkom. Carletonville, in particular, happens to be South Africa’s richest gold mining area and has the record of the world’s deepest gold mine.

It is unfortunate that while trying to get natural resources to make money, the country puts itself at risk of earthquakes.

A Chronology Of Earthquakes In South Africa Since The 20th Century

Since the 1990s, South Africa has experienced so many earthquakes, but thankfully no lives were lost in most of them. Here is a list of some of the notable earthquakes.

1. September 29th, 1969

  • Time: 20:03:33 (UTC)
  • Location: Near Tulbagh
  • Magnitude: 6.3
  • Depth: Unknown
  • Casualties: 12

This remains one of the most deadly earthquakes in South Africa to date. Damages were more severe in areas like Ceres, Prince Alfred Hamlet, Tulbagh, Wolseley. One of the largest aftershocks was felt on April 14, 1970 –  six months after the earthquake – and had a magnitude of 5.7.

Earthquakes In South Africa

Church Street in Tulbagh, which had one of the most renowned 18th to 20th-century buildings in Cape Dutch, Victorian and Edwardian styles, was one of the most affected. After the earthquake, the National Committee for the Restoration of Historic Buildings in Tulbagh and its Environment started restoring the building. Later, Tulbagh Valley Heritage Foundation continued the restoration process.

2. December 8th, 1976

  • Time: 08:38 (GMT)
  • Location: Welkom
  • Magnitude: 5.2
  • Depth: Unknown
  • Casualties: 4

On the 8th of December 1976, the Free State mining town of Welkom experienced an earthquake that took the lives of four miners. The quake had a magnitude of 5.2 when measured on a Richter scale. Aside from the lives that were lost, many buildings and underground mining structures were destroyed. One of the most prominent buildings destroyed was a six-storey building that collapsed 75 minutes after the earthquake.

The exact cause of the earthquake has been a great source of debate. Piet Pienaar, a consulting geologist for Anglo America at that time, said it was due to a geographical phenomenon and not mining, while other researchers think that assertion is incorrect.

3. September 26th, 1990

  • Time: 1.08am
  • Location: Welkom
  • Magnitude: 4.2
  • Depth: Unknown
  • Casualties: 2 dead; 40 injured

Very little is known about the earthquake that happened on September 26th, 1990, in Welkom, aside from the fact that it caused some surface damage and the lives of two miners. Like it is common with earthquakes to have aftershock, a smaller tremor that lasted for few seconds was felt after this earthquake.

4. March 9th, 2005

  • Time: Around mid-day
  • Location: Stilfontein, North West
  • Magnitude: 5.3
  • Depth: Unknown
  • Casualties: 2

On March 9, 2005, about 3,200 miners were working underground at the gold mine operated by DRDgold when the first tremor was felt, which led to the evacuation of miners. As of 19:00, 3,158 people were brought to safety, and 42 were still trapped 2 km underground. In the end, 40 were finally rescued after sustaining minor injuries, but sadly 20 were further hospitals as a result of serve head trauma. This earthquake, which had a magnitude of 5.3 when measured with a Richter scale, is also one of the biggest earthquakes in South Africa, and it took with it the lives of two miners.

5. May 28th, 2013

  • Time: Unknown
  • Location: Near Mbabane
  • Magnitude: 4.0
  • Depth: Unknown
  • Casualties: Unknown

Very little is known about the earthquake that occurred near Mbabane on May 28, 2013, except that it has a magnitude of 4.0 when measured on a Richter scale and was felt in Newcastle. The earthquake lasted for about 6 seconds, and the number of casualties or persons injured is unknown.

6. June 22nd, 2013

  • Time: 07:08
  • Location: Thabazimbi Limpopo
  • Magnitude: 3.9
  • Depth: 9km
  • Casualties: Unknown

Some days after the earthquake near Mbabane, another occurred at Thabazimbi Limpopo, and just like the first, not much is known about this earthquake, just that it had a depth of 9kn and a magnitude of 3.9 when measured on a Richter scale. The exact number of casualties is unknown.

7. July 7th, 2013

  • Time: 16:52
  • Location: Barberton Mpumalanga
  • Magnitude: 4.7
  • Depth: 5km
  • Casualties: Unknown

The earthquake that happened on July 7, 2013, at Barberton Mpumalanga was moderate, and according to an eyewitness, they heard the rumble before the quake. Just like other 2013 earthquakes before it, nothing much is known.

8. November 11th, 2013

  • Time: Just before 10 am
  • Location: University of Johannesburg, Johannesburg, Gauteng.
  • Magnitude: 4.0
  • Depth: Unknown
  • Casualties: None

A magnitude four tremor hit Johannesburg on November 11, 2013, just before 10 am. The earth shook for about six seconds, and then everything returned to normal. Those who experienced it took to Twitter to share their experience. One tweep who was an eye witness narrated how he/she was still reeling from the shock from the experience after 20 mins. However, reports have it that no casualties were recorded.

According to Michelle Grobbelaar, a manager of the Seismology unit, after an earthquake, another earthquake or tremor of the same magnitude is expected to happen. Still, sadly seismologists were unable to predict when it would happen.

9. December 2nd, 2013

  • Time: 21:18
  • Location: 25 km South of Bela-Bela, Limpopo
  • Magnitude: 4.8
  • Depth: 5km
  • Casualties: None Recorded

Although after the tremor at the University of Johannesburg, it was expected that another earthquake of similar magnitude should occur. And when the December 2nd earthquake happened, everyone thought it was linked with the former. However, reports have it that  Michelle Grobbelaar, who predicted another earthquake or tremor, said both earthquakes are not linked – as a result of the distance between the two.

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According to the Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale, the magnitude 4.8 earthquake gave the vibrating sensation of a large moving truck that caused hanging pictures to rattle. It was also capable of titling stationary vehicles.

Those who experienced it did not fail to share their experience on the bird app. A Johannesburg resident narrated his experience saying his roof made a prolonged and loud grating, and his bed trembled, and as expected, he freaked out. But thankfully, the tremor did not last for more than three seconds.

Another eyewitness said it was as though a truck hit the wall, and for another, it was like listening to loud music. The earthquake’s impact was felt as far as KwaMhlanga, Hartebeespoort Dam, Randburg in Johannesburg, and Parkhurst.

10. June 15th, 2014

  • Time: 18:16
  • Location: Near Orkney, North West
  • Magnitude: 4.9 on a moment magnitude scale
  • Depth: 5km
  • Casualties: None Recorded

Not much is known about this earthquake which occurred on June 15, 2014. No causalities or injured persons were recorded. Being of a similar magnitude as that of 2 December 2013, it may have had a similar impact. The impact of the 4.9 magnitude earthquake was felt from Near Orkney in North West up to Potchefstroom. And unfortunately, that was just the beginning, as a bigger quake followed barely two months after.

11. August 5th, 2014

  • Time: 12:22:33 (SAST)
  • Location: Near Orkney, North West
  • Magnitude: 5.5
  • Depth: 5.0 km
  • Casualties: 1 dead 34 injured

After the 1969 Tulbagh earthquake, the earthquake that hit Orkney, North West on August 5, 2014, is the next largest earthquake in South Africa, with a magnitude of 5.5 and 84 reported aftershocks. The impact of this earthquake was felt in neighboring countries like Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, and Mozambique. The Council for Geoscience (CGS) advised that there would be aftershocks and recommended that buildings are evacuated, and mining companies should ensure safer working conditions for miners around the area.

Khuma township near Stilfontein was one of the worst-hit areas, with over 600 homes damaged. Most of the damages occurred due to the poor building structure, making the buildings vulnerable to the earthquake. Hospitals and schools were also affected; however, only one death was reported. The 31-year-old man was killed by the wall of an old mine building that collapsed on him. 3,300 were trapped underground, but thankfully they were rescued, with only 34 of them reported to be injured.

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12. August 22nd, 2014

  • Time: 1:14
  • Location: Near Orange Farm, Gauteng
  • Magnitude: 3.8
  • Depth: 10 km
  • Casualties: None recorded

Another earthquake barely two weeks after one of the largest earthquakes in South Africa hit the country on August 22, 2014, near Orange Farm, Gauteng. Thankfully, there is no report of casualties or injured persons.

Two aftershocks followed the earthquake; the first, which had a magnitude of 3.2, occurred by 1:15 am, and the second one, which came a minute later, had a magnitude of 2.0. Other aftershocks also occurred, but they were smaller.

13. October 31st, 2019

  • Time: 13:20
  • Location: Near Port Shepstone, KwaZulu-Natal
  • Magnitude: 4.3
  • Depth: 10 km
  • Casualties: None recorded

On a Thursday, 31st of October 2019, at exactly 1:20 pm, residents of KwaZulu Natal experienced an earth tremor that lasted for about 10 seconds. The KwaZulu Natal Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs asked the public, who were already in a panic mood, to calm down. He assured everyone that the disaster management team had the matter in control, and fortunately, there were no casualties or injuries.

14. September 26th, 2020

  • Time: 19:10
  • Location: 1600 km SE of South Africa
  • Magnitude: 6.1
  • Depth: 10 km
  • Casualties: None recorded

Two earthquakes occurred on the 26th of September 2020. According to the report, the first earthquake occurred at 19:10, while the next occurred about an hour later. Very little is known about this particular quake apart from the information given above.

15. September 26th, 2020

  • Time: 20:41
  • Location: 12 km W of Paarl, South Africa
  • Magnitude: 2.7
  • Depth: 5 km
  • Casualties: None recorded

This earthquake and the first one that happened on the same day have mixed up information. Twitter users say they felt a shake that lasted for about 5 seconds, and no casualties were reported immediately.

16. September 27th, 2020

  • Time: 09:12
  • Location: Durbanville Area, Cape Town
  • Magnitude: 2.6
  • Depth: 5 km
  • Casualties: None recorded

After two earthquakes on Saturday 26th of September 2020, The Council for Geoscience (CGS) confirmed another earthquake around Durbanville Area, Cape Town. This one had a magnitude of 2.6 when measured with a Richter scale.

17. November 17th, 2020

  • Time: 00:27
  • Location: 41km South of Saldanha
  • Magnitude: 3.5
  • Depth: 5 km
  • Casualties: None recorded

On the 17th of November 2020, residents of Cape Town experienced an earthquake. According to reports, Dr. Jasper Knight, a professor of Physical Geography at Wits University and a geoscientist at the School of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental Studies, said tremors like this are not uncommon and should be expected.

Three Most Notable Earthquakes In South Africa

Earthquakes In South Africa

Of all earthquakes in South Africa, some have stood out to be the most notable due to the magnitude, level of damage, and lost lives. These earthquakes include:

  • 8th of December 1976 – Welkom, Free State
  • 9th of March 2005 – Stilfontein, North West
  • 4th of August 2014 – Near Orkney, North West

Although nobody prays for the occurrence of another earthquake or tremor that would take as many lives and leave so many people injured, it is important to know what to expect and how to stay prepared.

Should South Africa Expect More Earthquakes?

You can tell that earthquakes seem to have become more frequent in South Africa since 1969, and social media platforms play a major role in making people more aware of how frequent tremors have been since 2013. According to Business Insider, the South African seismograph network is consistently being upgraded to provide more seismograph stations and improve their ability to detect minor earthquakes.

Thankfully, with improved technology, better seismometers are now available, which can help detect smaller tremors. For the CGS to be consistently upgrading the South Africa Seismograph network, you can tell that they expect more earthquakes to occur, so as an individual, while taking an apartment or building yours, you may want to consider this and ensure that the structure is not easily vulnerable to earthquake damage.

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Romeo Ndlovu
Romeo's secret talent is taking the ordinary and making it extraordinary content. At work, he is thinking about how best to provide the most unique, original content that provides utmost satisfaction to the user. Away from work, he is a football addict who loves to catch up on his favorite pastimes
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