In my recent post about the Chilli Pepper restaurant, I briefly referred to a mine dump at the end of Immink Drive in Diepkloof, Soweto.
Like many Joburgers, I’ve always been both fascinated and appalled by these mountains of golden waste. Mine dumps are massive monuments to human greed, reminders of a time when insatiable hunger for gold drove powerful men to empty the earth beneath Johannesburg, pile it up where it didn’t belong, then leave that poisoned earth to blow dust into the lungs of former mine workers who — like the mine waste itself — got tossed away like garbage once they were no longer useful to the money-making machine.
The dumps soared above the city in the second half of the 20th century, competing for attention with downtown skyscrapers. Mine dumps came to define the geography of Johannesburg — one of many weird features that make this city unique.
Then in the early 2000s, the mining companies realized there was still quite a lot of gold in those dumps and began sifting through the waste again, trying to remove every last golden cent. Just like that, the mine dumps (especially the dumps close to the inner city) began to disappear. Since I arrived just over a decade ago, many of these waste mountains have been diminished into ragged, depressing-looking hillocks.
(Geographers: Please feel free to correct this lyrical yet overly simple and probably incorrect history of Joburg mine dumps.)
I digressed for a bit there. But what I really want to tell you is I climbed the Diepkloof mine dump a couple of weeks ago with my boyfriend Thorsten and two other guys. Thorsten and his colleague Tebogo Ramatlo are making a TV pilot about the architecture of “matchbox houses”: the cramped, four-room houses built for Black and Coloured people in Soweto (and lots of other places in South Africa) during apartheid. Thorsten and Tebogo climbed the mine dump with their filmmaker, Dominique Vandenhout, to get a birds-eye view of the township. I invited myself along.
I’ve always wanted to climb a mine dump and I’m glad I finally did, although it was rather terrifying. Here are some photos of the journey.
Our climb down was uneventful.
Thorsten, Tebogo, and Dominique climbed the dump again two days later to capture some more footage. But I decided one mine dump climb in a lifetime is enough for me. They climbed while I sat at Chilli Pepper and drank a Coke.
If you’d like to learn more about Soweto’s matchbox houses and the TV pilot Thorsten and Tebogo are making, tune in to 93.8 Mix FM at 7 p.m. South African time tonight (April 21st). They’ll be talking to architect and Mix FM radio host David Gurney about the project. (I was also on this show once and it’s super fun.)
Follow 26’10 south Architects for updates on the matchbox pilot. I’ll also post more about the pilot in the near future.