My father, Gerhardus Hermanus du Toit, was one of life’s great enigmas. He came from an Afrikaans upbringing yet married an English speaking woman, spoke only English himself and considered the “English” orientated United Party his lifelong political home. During World War Two, he was working on the Langlaagte Deep Mine as a shaft timber man and because mining and miners were considered “essential “to the war effort,he was not allowed to “signup” for active duty. So strongly did he believe that he had an obligation to do his bit that his simple solution was to quit the mine job and signup anyway leaving my mother to do the best she could on the meagre army pay. Joining the army simultaneously gave the finger to his Afrikaans relatives since the majority of Afrikaners openly or secretly supported Germany. Manie, as he was known, spent three years in the Signal Corps seeing action first in Egypt and later in Italy. He returned home physically unscathed but like so many returning soldiers the scars were on his psyche.
Deep level gold mining consists of blasting sections of the ore bearing seam then hoisting the resulting rocks to the surface where they are crushed and processed to remove the gold. The residue of this extraction process is a tiny quantity of gold and an enormous quantity of extremely fine yellow sand that is of no use to man or beast. Despite being worthless, this sand has to be stored somewhere so the mining companies created man-made hills on tracts of barren land. These “dumps” as they are known, became features of the Highveldt landscape but many residents complained about the dust that invaded every nook and cranny on windy days. Because nothing would grow in the sand, a special strain of grass was developed that not only survived but thrived in the mine dump sand. In addition, it was realised that many of the older dumps still contained gold and other precious metals which hadn’t been of interest during the original refining process. The upshot was the reworking and disappearance of many dumps and the conversion of others from the familiar yellow into green dumps and I, for one, was saddened by the loss and the change.
Mine DumpsYour golden hills once dominant Stood as tribute to your birth Your life, soul and vitality Portrayed in yellow earth But they are disappearing now The prey of man and machine Intent on destroying all trace Of that which you have been The stubborn few that remain In shrouds of green are dressed Are we so blind we cannot see Beauty in their nakedness? Why this sudden sense of shame This scramble to disguise? The cause is lost for come what may The character will survive
Like all the colonies of the major European powers, South Africa served as both a dumping ground for wayward noblemen and a happy hunting ground for adventurers and charlatans. The discovery of diamonds at Kimberley and gold near what would become the mining camp named Johannesburg, caused a veritable flood of fortune seekers to descend on both areas. Some would grab what they could and move on to the next big opportunity while others would become pillars of the new community. Life in the mining camp was harsh with hunger, disease, crime and deprivation the constant companion of all but the privileged and cunning few but the thought of the potential rewards made the suffering tolerable.
The City built on GoldCome young man and listen close for I’ve a tale to tell, Of vision, greed and spirit, of paradise and hell. Of men who built a city where none before did stand, And gave the very breath of life to our fair and sunny land. They came from earth’s four corners, princes, paupers, thieves, Plunged by fate in a melting pot to forge a brand new breed. Strong of back or sharp of wit and most uncommon bold, These were the noble sires of the city built on gold. From Germany and England and Canada and France, Came many fortune seekers all looking for the chance, To pit their wits against nature to strike the mother lode, And reap a richer harvest than man had ever sowed. With single minded purpose they tunnelled in the earth To extricate the golden flake that measured each mans worth. Fortunes won and fortunes lost each time the dice was rolled, No place for the faint hearted in the city built on gold. Now close your eyes and in your mind conjure up the sight, Of straining men and creaking gears toiling day and night. Hear every spoken language in the hubbub of the throng, And thrill as black men labour to the rhythm of their song. See the rutted, dusty streets, the tents placed here and there, Strange order midst the chaos, excitement midst despair. Imagine each rough component that shaped the final mould, In which was cast the future of the city built on gold. Give image to that tent town of a hundred years ago, Than overlay the present scene and you will surely know, That though their motivation was solely for self gain, They set events in motion, the first link in the chain. Now built upon their bedrock there stands a magic sight, A million blazing jewels fired by early morning light. Glass fingers reach into the sky, a wonder to behold, A thing of unique beauty is the City built on Gold. Back now to those men of men as ‘cross the scene they strode, Sing out their names, Barnato, Rissik, Harrison and Rhodes. The wheelers and the workers, each played their destined role, And left behind some legacy, the price of which, his soul. Expensive? That’s as may be but of this you can be sure, That if asked to do it over they’d choose the same once more. Lie peaceful then you pioneer’s in graves so long grown cold, We salute you, Founding Fathers of the City built on Gold.