We walked for a while through dark tunnels, where the hardness of black men’s work could be observed, carrying and transporting routinely big stones of which finally the gold is won.
Mpumalanga, land of gold – Km 14,868
I always wanted to learn about gold. Its people, its mines, its history.
Pedalling through the northeast of South Africa, I discovered a region geologically considered as one of the oldest of the planet.
Mpumalanga is a region of great mountains, where more than once I felt my legs where going to explode.
After succeeding another height, from where my eyes couldn’t get enough from admiring such a nature, I let go off the pedals and began to enjoy the wind that dried the sweat while I was going down the road at the velocity of a motorcycle; the last 8 kilometres to reach the land of the gold searchers: Pilgrim’s Rest.
Up until today the big tents can be seen, the same ones that sheltered the gold searchers. This camp, lost in the labyrinth of a great mountain, made me feel as one of them.
In the middle of the 19th century, amidst the colonization, the white people coming from Holland arrived to Cape Town. Searching a place to live where the climate would be less oppressive and free of illnesses, they travelled to the mountains, along 2.000 kilometres.
I arrived in the morning with David, a white man of about 40 years of age, descendant of the Dutch immigrants. With him I visited the whole camp while he told me about their history, their people and their traditions.
Those who came from Cape Town travelled in big wooden carriages town by 16 cows. A lot of people would die on the trip because of malaria and other illnesses. But those who managed to survive the 3 months of the trip, achieved an amazing experience: getting near to the coast of the river to gather water, they dazzled at the gleaming of gold.
David also let me feel for a few minutes the experience of being jailed at these times.
Afterwards we walked to the river, where he introduced me to the craft ship of the gold searchers. Yearning to find an enormous gold stone, I picked up a shovel and put it down on the bottom of the river. I filled it as much as I could, then I threw everything in a big tin washbasin and moved around the contents carefully until I was left with just a handful of what I had first gathered.
But after searching for a long time, I didn´t find even some particles shining.
Inside a mine
The next day my curiosity took me to the mines. I arrived with my bike after pedalling for an hour upwards. As I came closer, my whish to be there increased…inside a gold mine!
Upon my arrival I was greeted by Andrew, the manager of the mining company, who let me experience a day of work at the mine, which is not open to the public. Andrew’s complexion, typical Boers (the name given to the descendants of those Dutch farmers) was with his height, the whiteness of his skin and the pomposity of his gesticulation; a big contrast to the almost hundred men that worked along hundred of kilometres under the ground.
We walked for a while through dark tunnels, where the hardness of black men’s work could be observed, carrying and transporting routinely big stones of which finally the gold is won. Dozens of little carriages went up and down by the different railways that cross the mine, inside which daylight becomes almost imperceptible.
The images of these people with their dull faces, tired eyes and warrior hands will stay in my memory.