David Goldblatt

On the Mines

“The deep-level mines of the Witwatersrand, throwing up a trail of human habitation for more than sixty miles between Springs and Randfontein, never had about them the raffi sh atmosphere of the early diggers’ camps and their mining village, Johannesburg. The day of the digger-adventurer ended there: the picks and shovels of nomads could not get at the Main Reef – only capital and technical resources had the right reach. The big mining companies put down upon the veld, men, machinery and money. Complete equipment for mining gold; raw materials for a settled human society. Cornish miners, and engineers, technicians, geologists and administrators with university degrees came from Britain and Europe. The eruption of gold through a static agricultural economy brought the sons of white farmers to the barracks of small rooms behind a wood-and-iron verandah – the Single Quarters built on “The Property” and the uniform houses permanently darkened by wire-netting against fl ies – the Married Quarters. The pressures of a colonial money-economy brought young black men as migrant labour from tribes all over the country, and beyond, to the inward-facing Compounds on The Property.

It was a company of strangers in a place without a past, with nothing to quiet that certain spiritual hunger whose bread is memory. This is a hunger common to men whether they have just emerged from the Iron Age, a semi-feudal agronomy, or are the educated producers of modern capitalism. On the veld there were built the billiard-rooms of the General Manager’s fretted wood-and-iron Residence, the squalid concrete bunks of the Compound. Both were thought apposite to needs – of whom? For what?”

Nadine Gordimer, Introduction

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