ERMELO, SOUTH AFRICA (dpa) - Gold digging fever has gripped South Africa with treasure-hunters seeking out the small town of Ermelo in search of the Kruger millions which disappeared at the end of the Boer war in 1902.
The biggest treasure hunt in South African history, according to The Citizen newspaper began recently when reports surfaced that black farm labourers since 1960 have discovered at least 4,000 gold coins from the year 1897 in the area.
For decades numerous legends have been told about the whereabouts of the Kruger war chest that disappeared when troops of the Boer President Paul Kruger began withdrawing from the advancing British army at the end of the Boer war.
A stone carving of Kruger dug up in the Ermelo area in May this year triggered speculation that the Kruger millions must be somewhere in the region.
When the publicity-hungry Ermelo city councillor Athol Stark revealed that a Zulu family contacted him in 1999 on the sale of Krueger gold coins, the nation suddenly woke up to the treasure hunt call.
Crowds of treasure hunters made their way to the dusty town of Ermelo in the Mpumalanga province, despite many open questions on the nature of the reports.
Far more important was the information that the sale of 400 coins brought a total sum of 200,000 rand (24,000 dollars).
Ermelo was suddenly in the headlines just as much as the farmer, 76-year-old Ivan Scholtz, on whose land the coins were allegedly discovered.
Scholtz told reporters that during the past three decades he repeatedly had to chase treasure hunters from his land.
His farm was the scene of heavy fighting between Boer forces and British troops and he says that occasionally decaying tools, pieces of old clothing or chests are found in the earth.
City councillor Stark, who also heads the tourist office in the town, quickly saw an opportunity in putting the town on the map.
Official approval for a big treasure hunt took far too long, if they had gone through the official channels.
"We would have wanted to start it early but needed permission from Mr Scholtz and the neighbouring farmers," he explains. The town invested some 37,000 rand (4,500 dollars) in advertising and security measures to lure huge crowds for a mass dig.
Local historians however remain sceptical that the few gold coins discovered in the area during the past few decades were ever part of the Kruger hoard.
Boer troops were sometimes paid with gold coins and if the Kruger millions ever existed the hoard would be much larger; weighing several thousand kilograms and worth at least 30 million dollars at today´s prices, according to the experts.