The South African Gold Panning Association (SAGPA) was founded in July 1997. In August of the same year a delegation from the Association and the Pilgrim’s Rest Museum visited Finland to observe and compete in the Finnish Open Gold Panning Championships. South Africa was also represented at the Swiss Open Championships and the World Gold Panning Championships in Italy. SAGPA also applied for membership of the World Association and became its twentieth member.
SAGPA joined forces with the Pilgrim’s Rest Museum and Mpumalanga’s Department of Culture, Sport and Recreation to successfully present the first annual South African Open Gold Panning Championships in December 1997. Interest in gold panning has since grown rapidly and membership of the association has grown by 620%. Participation in the South African Open Championships has also grown remarkably and a record number of 567 gold panners competed in the 2004 event. The South African events have also drawn competitors from Great Britain, Caribbean Islands, United States, Canada, Mozambique, Botswana, Switzerland, New Zealand, Zambia and Namibia.
Gold panning is supported and practiced by people from all races, genders and ages and is not expensive to get into as little equipment is needed and no special physical attributes are required other than enthusiasm and passion. Since it’s beginning, SAGPA has made it its goal to develop the S.A. Open Championships to meet with the requirements of the World Gold Panning Association’s rules and competition standards to ensure fair competition. Each competitor receives a regulation gold pan and a bucket of sand in which a number of gold nuggets are hidden. The winner will have panned out the most nuggets in the shortest time. The number of nuggets in the buckets of sand is only known to the Chief Judge and participants are penalised for lost nuggets. Provision is made for proficient and novice participants divided into categories according to age and gender. The championships are also accompanied by various exciting sideshows such as the Gold Symposium, traditional Wheelbarrow Race, Diggers Pub Crawl and Diggers Dance.
Every year since 1997 SAGPA has been represented at the World Gold Panning Championships, the highlight being the 2001 championships in Australia. Apart from the gold and silver medals that were won the South African contingent also succeeded to secure the bid to host the 2005 World Gold Panning Championships at Pilgrim’s Rest, Mpumalanga, South Africa. Not only is this a first for South Africa but a first for Africa.