A Golden Week at the 2023 World Gold Panning Championships

The slogans for the 2023 World Gold Panning Championships in Pilgrim’s Rest were first WOZA 2023 and then SES’FIKILE – “come here” and “we have arrived”. The event was hosted by the South African Gold Panning Association (SAGPA) in partnership with the Mpumalanga Department of Culture, Sports and Recreation (DCSR).

The gold panning site was in tip-top condition. Furthermore, the competition ran like clockwork after years of preparation by the dedicated and tireless SAGPA team. 

Street Parade of Nations and Opening Ceremony

The event started off with the Street Parade of Nations. As usual in South Africa, the parade was headed by “Wheelbarrow Patterson” who discovered gold in Pilgrim’s Creek. This was 150 years ago this year – the reason why SAGPA opted to bid for the World Gold Panning Championships in 2023.

"Wheelbarrow" Patterson

Sherry Goodwin, SAGPA Chairperson, welcomed all. She also thanked everyone who had put in a tremendous amount of work over the last few years, despite numerous challenges. “Most of all I would like to thank the gold panners of the world,” she emphasized. “The South Africans that are always here and those that have come from everywhere to be with us. We hope you have a lovely time!”

Sanjay Singh, President of the World Gold Panning Association (WGA), extended a special welcome to the competitors from overseas. He went on to highlight the fact that the Children’s competition would be an official WGA event for the first time. “We hope this will inspire the children to give of their best,” Singh explained. “We also call upon all member countries to make a special effort to ensure that we have more young people and children involved in our activities.”

Keynote speaker, Thandi Shongwe, MEC for the Department of Culture, Sport and Recreation officially opened the event. She welcomed the participants and invited them to also stay over in Mpumalanga for a while and experience the beauty and landscapes of the province.

As this was an official World Gold Panning Championships, the opening was concluded with the ceremonial raising of the WGA flag.

Raising of the WGA flag at 2023 World Gold Panning Championships

Special Panning Events

The opening day also saw two special gold panning events.  Firstly, there was a unique gold panning competition for differently abled participants.  This was followed by a Gold Rush –  panning out 30 commemorative coins from two large heaps of sand. There was a mad scramble as 90 entrants ran to fetch sand and find space to pan in the 30 panning dams. Those who found coins then competed for a prize in a normal gold panning contest. This fun event was won by a young South African, Tswanelo Moropa.

The 2023 World Gold Panning Championships


There were 356 competitors, of whom 87 represented 16 foreign countries – including 12 European countries, the UK, Canada, the US and New Zealand. Sadly many members of the gold panning family who had wanted to join were unable to. This was mainly due to the economic challenges caused by the social-political climate in Eastern Europe.

The Competition

For 6 days, from 7-12 August, the gold panners competed fiercely in the various official and unofficial  categories – heats, quarter-finals and semi-finals, culminating in the finals on the last day.

Fortunately there was no rain, but panning in the early mornings was freezing. A few mornings ice had to be broken out of the panning dams!  However, most days were sunny and warmed up quickly to temperatures equivalent to European summer weather.

The Champions

Winning national teams at the 2023 World Gold Panning Championships
Winning National Teams – 1st South Africa, 2nd France, 3rd The Netherlands

The 2023 World Gold Panning Champions in the Official Categories are:

  • National Teams – South Africa (Team members: Judith Mason, Linda Traill, Dix van Dam, Coen Vermaak, Sonja Vermaak)
  • Proficient Men – Dirk Melhorn (Germany)
  • Proficient Women – Sonja Vermaak (South Africa)
  • Traditional Klondike – Surprise Mdluli (South Africa)
  • Juniors – Guus Spijker (Netherlands)
  • Veterans (60 and over) – Coen Vermaak (South Africa)
  • Children (12 and under) – Pholosho Mogane (South Africa)
Winners of the Children's category at the World Gold Panning Championships
Winners of the Children’s Event – a New Official WGA Category

The winners of the individual unofficial categories were:

  • Beginner Men – Antonin Kupka (Czech Republic) 
  • Beginner Women – Hilda Kgwedi (South Africa)
  • Jokers (2 events) – Sanjay Singh and Coen Vermaak (both South Africa)
  • Masters (70 and over) – Antti Seppela (Finland)
  • Family Panning – Mashaka Family (South Africa)

Family panning is a fun category, promoting gold panning as a sport for the whole family. The prize included a magnificent trophy, sculpted and donated by Cesar Castaño, a renowned sculptor and avid gold panner from Spain.

Well Run Championships  

There has been considerable positive feedback about the event.  The competition went very smoothly, with one overseas participant complimenting that it had operated like a precision Swiss watch. There was not a single rerun in 6 days of 12-13 events per day.

The digital programs that had been developed and refined over the past two SA National Championships ensured that results were published within minutes and that starting lists for the next day were available by late afternoon. 

Various participants also commented on the wide selection, quality and reasonable pricing of the food available at the various stalls. The local crafter’s stalls further added a South African flavour to the event.

The Closing Ceremony

The prize-giving after the finals and National Teams Competition was a joyful and colourful occasion, with winners wearing national colours and/or waving their countries’ flags.

This was followed by thanks to all by Sherry Goodwin. Everyone who was part of the team working to ensure the success of the event was presented with a special commemorative coin. Sanjay Singh bid farewell to the participants, expressing the hope that everyone would meet again soon at next year’s championships.

Finally the WGA flag was lowered and handed to the representatives of the Czech Republic, hosts of the 2024 World Gold Panning Championships being held in Zlate Hory next year.

Handing over the World Gold Panning Association Flag Czech Republic, hosts of the 2024 World Gold Panning Championships

Follow this link for the gallery of photographs of the 2023 World Gold Panning Championships. There are also many more photographs and and videos on the World Gold Panning Association Facebook page.



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