S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Beetz, Dr Paul Friedrich Werner (geology)

Born: 19 September 1887, Halle a Saale, Germany.
Died: 15 July 1954, Johannesburg, South Africa.

P.F. Werner Beetz, geologist, studied at the Universities of Halle and Berlin and was awarded the D.Phil degree in 1913. His inaugural dissertation was titled Beitraege zur tektonik und stratigraphie des Lauterbacher grabens (Darmstadt, 1913). That same year he was appointed by the Deutsche Diamantengesellschaft to study the geology, and particularly the coastal diamond deposits, of the Sperrgebiet in the southern part of German South West Africa (now Namibia). Initially he worked in collaboration with F.W. Erich Kaiser. After World War I (1914-1918) the German diamond interests were acquired by Sir Ernest Oppenheimer via the De Beers Group and the Consolidated Diamond Mines of South West Africa was formed. Beetz continued his work in the employ of this company.

He was particularly interested in the effects of previous climates and explored far into the interior to study the stratigraphy and structure of various rock groups. His first publication dealing with this work was a paper by Kaiser and Beetz on water erosion in the southern Namib desert in the Zeitschrift fuer Praktische Geologie (1919). Beetz investigated the rocks of what came to be known as the Sinclair Sequence some 150 km northeast of Luderitz, including it in the Konkip Formation (named earlier by P. Range*) and described his results in "The Konkip Formation on the borders of the Namib Desert north of Aus" (Transactions of the Geological Society of South Africa, 1922). He also mapped part of the Gariep Complex southeast of Luderitz. His work was described in several contributions to a two volume work edited by Kaiser, Die Diamantenwueste Suedwest-Afrikas (Berlin, 1926). These dealt with the Konkip and Nama Formations, the stratigraphy of the older schists of the southern Namib, the Tertiary deposits along the Namib coast, and a large graben (trough-valley) in the Namib. The latter geological study of the south-western part of Namibia had earlier been the subject of a paper by Beetz in the Transactions of the Geological Society of South Africa (1924) and had elicited a lively discussion. Some of his stratigraphic work was published in a paper in the Neues Jahrbuch fuer Mineralogie, Geologie und Palaeontologie (1929), in which he attempted a stratigraphic classification and correlation of the Precambrian formations of the whole country. As co-author with Professor T.W. Gevers he contributed a paper on "Pre-Dwyka glacial periods in southern Africa" to the Report of the 17th International Geological Congress (Moscow, 1937). He also collected many bones of fossil mammals from Tertiary pan and river sediments in the Namib and sent them to the Palaeontology Department at the University of Munich for study. As a result he was awarded a medal of merit by the Bavarian Academy of Sciences.

In 1924 Beetz was seconded to the Anglo American Corporation. He investigated diamondiferous alluvial deposits in Tanzania, Zaire, Angola, and at Lichtenburg in the Transvaal and as a result became a leading authority on alluvial diamonds. His findings were summarised in a paper titled "Process of concentration in alluvial and allied diamond placers of South West, South Central and East Africa" at the Sixth International Mining, Metallurgical and Geological Congress held in Liege, Belgium, in 1930. He also described the continuity of formations from northern Kaololand into Angola, and was the first to describe the Kunene Anorthosite Complex in "Geology of south-west Angola between the Kunene and the Lunda axis" (Transactions of the Geological Society of South Africa, 1933).

In 1927 he was appointed as consulting geologist to De Beers and that same year initiated and supervised exploration for diamonds along the coast north of the Orange River. The first diamond was found there beneath a thick sand cover in 1928 and subsequently the region became one of the largest diamond producers in the world.

From 1928 to 1930 Beetz was manager of the diamond workings of the Hans Merensky Association at Alexander Bay. In the latter year these workings were taken over by the South African government and Beetz returned to De Beers, where he became chief geologist. He returned to Anglo-American in 1935 to supervise the drilling for gold around Klerksdorp. He focussed the drilling programme on the Ventersdorp Contact Reef, which led to the successful development of the Western Reefs Gold Mine. The scientific results of the drilling programme were published in "Contribution to the geology of the Klerksdorp district from the results of the drilling activities by the Western Reefs Exploration and Development Company, Ltd." (Transactions of the Geological Society of South Africa, 1937). However, owing mainly to differences between him and the chief consulting geologist of the corporation at the time, Dr J.A. Bancroft, he retired in 1939 and became an independent consulting geologist in Johannesburg.

After his retirement from Anglo-American Beetz investigated, among many others, the Phalaborwa vermiculite deposits and the chromite deposits in the Steelpoort Valley. His last paper, published in Erdkunde (1950) contained a detailed description of the course of the Kunene River along the border between Namibia and Angola. He became a member of the Geological Society of South Africa in 1920 and served on its council for several years from 1938. The society awarded him its Draper Memorial Medal in 1953. In addition to his geological work Beetz collected some plants which he sent to M.K. Dinter* around 1922-3. The species Mesembryanthemum beetzii was named after him by Dinter.

Beetz was married to Helena Angela Brandt, with whom he had two daughters. He became a South African citizen and died on his farm Lucky Acres, in the district of Johannesburg.

List of sources:

Anhaeusser, C.R. (ed.) A century of geological endeavour in southern Africa, 1895-1995 (pp. 29-30, 359, 411). Johannesburg: Geological Society of South Africa, 1997.

Dictionary of South African biography, Vol. 5, 1987.

Gunn, M. & Codd, L.E. Botanical exploration of southern Africa. Cape Town: Balkema, 1981.

Hugo, P.J., Schalk, K.E.L. & Barnes, S-J. Bibliography of South West African/Namibian earth science. Windhoek: Geological Survey, 1983.

Logan, R.F. Bibliography of South West Africa, geography and related fields. Windhoek: SWA Scientific Society, 1969.

National Archives Repository (TAB), Source MHG, Vol. 0, Ref. 4539/54: Death notice, Paul Friedrich Werner Beetz.

National Automated Archival Information Retrieval System (NAAIRS), at http://www.national.archives.gov.za/naairs.htm Documents relating to Paul Friedrich Werner Beetz.

National Union Catalogue, pre-1956 imprints. London: Mansell, 1968-1980.

Compiled by: C. Plug