HVM Society Snippets – No.176 The Golden Rand cover Illustrated magazine, 15 June 1946
Dear Fellow Mortonites,
On 5th April, 2011 Peter Devenish circulated HVM Literary Note – No.94 (http://www.hvmorton.co.uk/hvmsoc/LN93-95.html#LN94). This was a transcription, by Kenneth Fields, of an article written by Morton for Illustrated Magazine in 1946, describing the conditions in South Africa’s largest gold mine, the City Deep Mine at Johannesburg. He relays the scene as he and James Jarché, wearing only vests, sweat rags and khaki overalls (what a sight!) struggle down into the hot, humid depths to capture the moment in words and picures “James Jarché took the picture while I let off one of the flashes…”, Morton writes. The article itself is a piece of history, not only for what it describes, but for the attitudes and social mores it reveals so casually; it is a piece which must be read and interpreted in the context of the times in which it was written.
I subsequently had the good fortune to acquire a copy of the magazine and was able to read the article for myself, in its original setting. The cover, showing Zulu workers celebrating one of their regular Sundays off, is featured above. As an exercise, I attempted a reconstruction of Morton’s text (courtesy of Kenneth) along with scans of Jarché’s photographs in the same configuration as the editors of Illustrated Magazine had used. The final result is enclosed as a pdf file for your interest and, though I say so myself, I’m quite pleased with the end result.
Morton’s article aside, the magazine as a whole is a delight. As with similar publications it is the minor details which seem to convey a feeling for the period rather than the grand headlines, exotic locations and foreign travel. Alongside feature articles on modern methods of apple production and so forth are advertisments for shoes, vitamins, custard powder, washing powder, toothpaste (“dingy teeth are often taken for unclean teeth!”), cider, fountain-pens and Camp Coffee (“scarce but good”) – all unconsciously reflecting the fashions, fears and aspirations of the day. Some of the strap-lines are priceless – your husband will fail to get that promotion he applied for if you don’t serve him “grand tasting grape-nuts” and if you want to start a family you are rather bizarrely advised to use P&B wools!
It is well worth keeping an eye out for this edition, with persistence there are still a few to be found online. If anyone has had the good fortune to come across this, or any other articles by HVM in newspapers or magazines of the time I would love to hear from them, and if a scan or photgraph was available that would be the icing on the cake – or, should I say, the chocolate on the custard!
In the meantime, I hope you enjoy my little recreation.
With best wishes,
Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England 24 January 2015
— The HV Morton Society Web: www.hvmorton.co.uk Blog: http://hvmorton.wordpress.com/
— Copyright: Please note that the copyright on all material is strictly held by the original authors and the HV Morton Society. The rights to all excerpts, whether text or graphics, from HV Morton’s works are retained by the estate of HV Morton.
THE GOLDEN RAND World stock exchanges have been caught up in the wild scramble for gold shares. H. V. Morton and ILLUSTRATED cameraman James Jarche take you down the City Deep Mine, South Africa, to show how the ore is wrested from the reefs T??in the world are the OoregumMine at Mysore, India, and??? ??????? gold mines the City Deep Mine at Johannesburg. The Ooregum is 9,000 ft. deep and the City Deep is 8,500 ft.; so there is not much in it. The above picture was taken at the bottom of the City Deep, a mile and a half below the surface of the earth and in the temperature of a Turkish bath. James Jarché took the picture while I let off one of the flashes. The sweat was pouring into our eyes and running down our backs. We were wearing only vests and khaki overalls, and these were sticking to our bodies as if we had been flung, clothes and all, into hot water. Every now and then we had to find something dry enough to wipe a film of moisture from the lens of the camera, for the atmosphere was steamy and dank, like that of an overheated, tropical jungle. Down below, in a silence which man was surely never intended to invade, with the world of sunshine and human beings a mile and a half above, hundreds of glistening natives, and a few pallid white men, were wresting gold-bearing ore from the bowels of the Witwatersrand – the Ridge of White Waters – known commonly as the Rand. The natives, who do the hard, physical work, are called labourers, and the white men, who do the overseeing, lay the charges, examine the roofs and give all the orders, are called the miners. In this picture you see THIS PICTURE WAS TAKEN A MILE AND A HALF BELOW THE EARTH’S SURFACE IN THE FAMOUS CITY DEEP GOLD MINE AT JOHANNESBURG. TWO NATIVES ARE DRILLING THE GOLD-BEARING GOLD BRICKS THE SAME SIZE AS A BUILDER’S BRICK BUT THESE ARE WORTH £7,500 EACH ICE BRICKS ARE SEND DOWN THE MINE TO KEEP WATER AND TEA COOL IN INTENSE HEAT two native labourers and a white miner preparing to work in the “stope,” as the working place is called. The natives are getting ready to use a pneumatic drill on the rock in front of them, which is the precious reef, or vein of goldbearing rock, on which the fortune of South Africa has been built. A crazy pile of timber on the right is holding up several tons of rock which otherwise might crash down and kill everybody in the vicinity. I was glad to get away from it. It was probably safe, but its angle did not inspire confidence in me! When we had taken the picture, and wiped some more sweat out of our eyes, I asked the mine manager, who was standing beside me, if he could tell under what portion of Johannesburg, or its suburbs, we were standing at that moment. He turned to the assistant manager. “Let’s see now,” he said, “we must be directly under that row of houses and the garage …” It was odd to hear two men a mile and a half down in the earth reconstructing the scene on the surface, and when they mentioned the houses and the garage I had a sudden violent desire to escape from that suffocating, dark and silent bit of hell and get up to the surface, where the sun would be shining on the houses and a car would be driving up to the garage. But we had a lot more to do and to see before that happy moment came when we took the first lift towards the surface. If you ever go down a gold mine in South Africa, let me give you a piece of advice which will probably save you from pneumonia. No matter how hot the day may be, insist upon taking down the mine a winter overcoat and a muffler. You will need them when, sweating in every pore, you face the icy currents of air on your return. When you arrive at the mine buildings, you sign the usual form stating that you go down at your own risk, then you are taken to a dressing room where you are issued with khaki overalls, a sweat-rag for your neck, and an acetylene lamp. The first lift drops down 4,900 ft. in a few seconds. You stand in an iron cage with your guides and several Zulu police boys, and the cage just falls into the dark with a smooth inevitability. You step out into a high, electrically lit whitewashed cave, where a shift of labourers is waiting to go to the surface. They sit patiently on their haunches, like miners the world over, and their strong teeth and the whites of their eyes gleam in their dark faces. There are Basutos, Bacas from Griqualand, Machopis from Portuguese East Africa, Mzingili from North Zululand, and representatives from tribes all over the Union, and as far away as Rhodesia and Nyasaland. The experts can tell their origin at a glance, but they all look the same to me; the same patient black faces, the same sweat-shiny bodies, the same air of docile automatons and – the same smell. Most of them are young and physically perfect. The second lift drops down another 2,500 ft. to the 7,300 level. Here is the same kind of white cave and tunnels leading off from it. It is now perceptibly warmer. You can hear the tinned air being pumped into the mine, and you pass from currents of cool air into hot. Then comes the worst journey of all – to the mine bottom. This is a steel tub on an inclined rail and it is worked by a steel cable. You make yourself as small as possible and crouch inside it. Someone’s boot lodges in the nape of your neck, as more and more men crawl in, until the last man slams into position a steel lid, like the sun roof of a car, and the tub goes shooting off into the dark, clanking and swaying into the hot bowels of the earth. You step out 8,500 feet below ground level, and start to walk along tunnels, called drives, which lead to the reef. It is now very warm indeed. This reef is a peculiar thing. If you wished to illustrate it to a class of schoolchildren, you might take half a broken basin and bury it in the earth so that only the lip was visible. The china would represent the reef, at first easily got at, and then, as men eat it away with pick-axes and cart it away in tubs, deeper and more difficult and more expensive to bring to the surface. And the story of mining is the following downward of this slanting vein of mineral ore. There comes a time in the life of a gold mine when the ore is so deep that it is not economically workable. That depends, naturally, upon the price of gold. Before the first World War, gold was £4 5s. an ounce. Today it has reached the unheard-of price of £8 12s. 3d. an ounce, and that is why South Africa is having a time of great prosperity and why deep Strict day and night guard is kept at South Africa’s gold refineries. These days the works are busier than ever. GREAT CARE HAS TO BE TAKEN AS £7,500 OF MOLTEN GOLD IS POURED INTO THESE MOULDS ARMED WATCH AS THE PRECIOUS BRICKS ARE TRUNDLED AWAY FROM THE REFINERY Gold dust is washed on aprons. From one ton of rock a piece of gold the size of a trouser button is obtained mines and mines with low-grade ore, which would have been closed down years ago because of working cost, are now showing a handsome profit. As you explore a gold mine, you look in vain for anything remotely resembling gold. There is nothing. The reef itself does not sparkle or shine. It is just dull-looking rock. The natives hew it and cart it away in trucks, and they might be carting so much slag, for gold ore is not even as lively to look at as coal or anthracite. It is not until you leave the mine below, and go above ground to a refinery, that you see the first glimpse of this all-powerful metal. You see it in the form of a gold brick. It is the size of an ordinary builder’s brick, and the same shape, but it is a beautiful heavy, red, oily brick of pure and solid gold. And, for some reason that has nothing to do with its value, it is mysteriously attractive. I asked the man who had just stamped it how much the brick was worth. It was worth £7,500. What surprised me about the refinery was the astonishingly small quantity of gold to be found in a ton of rock. Take a ton of rock, grind it into powder, wash it over inclined sheets of corduroy, take the residue, pump it into tanks, refine it still further, and then subject what slime is left to chemical action, and all you have from that massive ton of rock is a button of gold rather smaller than a trouser button! In order to make one gold brick something like 3,700 tons of rock must be pulverized and refined. Perhaps the most impressive sight on the Rand is a king’s ransom on a truck, with a casual native sitting on it, waiting orders to wheel it somewhere! “And where does it go?” I asked. “To the Mint at Pretoria.” “And then?” “It’s sold.” “And what happens to it then?” “It is reburied in the vaults of banks!” Upon the recovery of this metal from the earth, and the reburial of it, Johannesburg has grown into a great and prosperous city in the brief space of sixty years. It is a city, stimulating and vital, a city standing 6,000 feet above sea level, a city with a strong American look about it, full of tall skyscrapers, steel and concrete buildings, huge departmental stores, hotels, cinemas, hundreds upon hundreds of feminine shops, shops overflowing with everything considered desirable in modem life and, ringing it round about, are huge silver and gold coloured pyramids of cast-up earth – the mine dumps. The mines are on Johannesburg’s doorstep, or rather Johannesburg is just where it was sixty years ago, when the city was a one-storey, gold-rush town. So as you walk along the rectangular streets of this impressive modem city that many old people remember as a mining camp, you can see, framed at the end of the street the headgear of mines and the huge hills that men, like moles, have thrown up in their search for gold. It is these mine dumps that give Johannesburg its personality. They are like a hoarding which proclaims: “This is the City of Gold,” or perhaps, to some people, they might seem to say in the words of Virgil: “0 cursed lust of gold, to what cannot thou compel the heart of man!” It is, no doubt, a matter of opinion! King Solomon never dreamt of such wealth as that of South Africa’s gold fields. The Rand produces a third of the world’s gold. The mines employ 393,000 natives and 40,000 Europeans. The gold mining industry spends £38,000,000 in wages every year and another £38,000,000 in stores and equipment. It pays £25,000,000 in taxation. It is the foundation of South Africa’s material prosperity. It is, of course, evident that this prosperity would not be possible without cheap native labour. If, for instance, the 393,000 natives were paid the same rate of wages as the 40,000 European miners, the Rand gold mines would have to close down tomorrow. What, then, is the native labourer like, and what sort of time does he have in the mines? My only surprise on the gold fields was that the native labourer was not the miserable, downtrodden creature I had expected to find. He was a fine, upstanding specimen of humanity. He was obviously healthy. He was, as far as I could judge from his high spirits and his smiles, happy. These natives belong to tribes scattered all over Africa. There are recruiting stations in tribal territories at which they can volunteer to work in the mines for such periods as nine or fourteen months, after which they return to their tribes. They can then, in a year’s time, volunteer again, and so on. On the average, the native labourer works between the ages of eighteen and forty for about twenty-two years and then retires to his tribe. It is this contact with the tribal life which preserves him, which gives him moral stability and physical refreshment. He is not a man who signs on in the mines and works until he is too old to go on any more, he is a man who works for a short spell and then returns home for a year. But why does he volunteer for work in the mines? Because it is the only way for a native living in tribal territory to amass in a short time the money necessary to buy cattle and wives and to pay his taxes. I was told by one mine manager who employs 1,300 “boys” – as natives of all ages are called – that after a year’s work careful labourers return home to their tribes having saved, on an average, £16 each, which in tribal territories goes a very long way indeed. The care with which native labourers are housed and fed on all the mine compounds which I visited was beyond praise. Extraordinary care is taken to give them a balanced diet, to see that they remain healthy and to give them suitable recreation. Native dances are held every Sunday in some of the compounds. I was invited to attend one of these at the Consolidated Main Reef Mine. It was a hot day and the sun beat down upon an arena built of stone, designed by the mine manager and erected by the natives themselves. There were nine tiers of seats and the arena was half covered with an awning of canes. The ground was dusted with red sand. The audience was an interesting collection of African natives, some clothed in sketchy European attire, some wrapped in blankets, and some in little else but their bronze skins. A native band was thrumming on “kaffir pianos,” instruments like xylophones. The ground trembled with the rhythm. Then into the arena in single file came the first team of dancers, a team from Portuguese East Africa. They wore white singlets, yellow aprons and great tufts of sheepskin waved round their bare ankles. They carried shields and short stabbing assegais. Their leaders wore a tall crown of ostrich feathers. These “boys,” who had worked an eight-hour day in the depths of the earth, were full of vitality. They were tireless. They advanced and retreated, shuffling their feet and stamping. The music throbbed and thudded. Three men dressed as girls faced the dancers, indulging in amazing and preposterous postures, working the dancers to a frenzy of what seemed like warlike energy. Then, with a great shout, they suddenly relaxed and went out. The next dance was much the same – the dancers were from East Griqualand – and a third team of magnificently garbed Zulus came in, a barbaric and splendid sight. They were naked save for girdles of leopard skin. White sheepskin cross belts lay on their coffee-coloured chests and plumes waved on their heads. They carried shields and spears, and their performance, although I was told it was a marriage dance, looked like the beginning of a war. These were men splendid in physique and bearing. They moved like kings. Their muscles rippled under their brown skins and they provided their own music, a long, shouting chant. Their dance went on for the best part of an hour. Sometimes they would all sit down and I thought it was ended, but after a moment they would rise and start all over again. It was a strange and interesting spectacle. These natives were in Johannesburg, but they were not of it. They were free to explore the white man’s world, but they preferred to stay in their compound, in their own tribal units, and among those who spoke their own tongue and knew their background. Some of them would perhaps be going home in a day, a week, taking with them messages to distant kraals in Northern Rhodesia and to remote mountain villages in Basutoland; and their places would immediately be filled by friends and relatives from the same tribes. What an extraordinary arrangement this is – this intermixture of primitive and highly industrialized life, this introduction of people who are by nature pastoral into one of the more arduous branches of industry, without making them city dwellers, without snapping their tribal customs or severing their loyalty to some hereditary chief. I looked at them, marvelling at their energy and their vitality. I remembered the lower levels of the City Deep and the shift that was waiting to surface. Those white eyeballs in the electric light, those quiet, docile men. Could these be the same men, these gay and violent dancers in the sunlight of a Sunday morning? And I could imagine them, their term of service over, going back to their distant homes with nothing but a blanket or a pair of trousers to prove that for a year they had helped the white man to find that red metal which he loves as much as life itself. (World copyright reserved) New El Dorado is at Odendaalsrust, about 170 miles south-east of Johannesberg This Drill made the strike of 62.6 ounces per ton, and put Odendaalsrust in the news Farmer G.J. Rheeder, seen with his wife, owned land on which the strike was made Excitement did not disturb the village of 300 people who earn their living by farming Baby becomes news because he was born to the wife of a driller on night strike was made Town Clerk of Odendaalsrust was busy with deeds of sale as property boomed Cores from the drill being packed in special boxes to be sent away to the analyst’s Golden Core was “surfaced” by J.W. Hewetson. Drilling goes on day and night A SLEEPY VILLAGE BECAME WORLD NEWS… ODENDAALSRUST HAD STRUCK