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City's mine dumps fast disappearing

By unknown | Apr 17, 2007 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

Celean Jacobson

Celean Jacobson

The hulks of stepped, golden sand, looking from the air like rows of pre-Colombian pyramids, have long been part of Johannesburg's cityscape.

Now, they are fast disappearing as mining companies cash in on high gold prices and reprocess the mountains of what they once dumped as waste.

With the precious metal at more than $600 (R4270) an ounce, even dumps containing the lowest grade ore are proving to be, well, gold mines.

Johannesburg is built, literally and economically, on mining.

The discovery of a seam of gold deposits led to the establishment of Johannesburg in 1886 and some dumps date back to the city's early days as a frontier mining town.

Reprocessing the dumps is a modern day gold rush fuelled by soaring prices for the precious metal.

The extraction of gold from the dumps by mining companies took off in the early 1980s. Since then DRDGold has removed 203million tons of dumps, recovering 90 tons of gold for the mining companies and clearing 549 acres of land.

Charles Symons, regional general manager for DRDGold, said: "We are manufacturing real estate within the expanding central business district, but just as importantly, with the dumps being a source of dust and water pollution, the general environment is being cleaned up."

Johannesburg's 200 or so dumps follow the reef of gold deposits that runs below the rocky region, stretching east to west.

Fifty years ago they were situated well outside the city limits.

As mining slowed and the city expanded, the dumps were covered with vegetation to stabilise them.

Menell's Dump in the southeast of the city is expected to be cleared in two years after work on it began in 2002.

From the highway it looks as it has for decades, a gently sloping hill. But behind it, all that is left is a narrow arc of 30m high cliffs of hard-caked sand.

Working around the clock, the dump is cleared by a small group of men and three front-end loaders.

They leave behind a moonscape of craters and rock towers set against the city skyline. The sites have become a popular location for film shoots, Symons said, with crews even bringing their own palm trees to sites that lend themselves to desert oasis scenes.

So far, Symons has not been able to get his hands on the city's most famous mine dump, site of the now defunct Top Star Drive-In, which has an above-average yield of gold. It also has wide support from groups who see it as a landmark worth protecting.

The site offers spectacular panoramic views of Johannesburg. The stretch of tarmac up a winding road has been the scene of many midnight movies and rave parties.

Redeveloped as a drive-in in the 1960s, the dump dates back to about 1887. Now heritage organisations are trying to stop DRDGold from flattening it.

For Elsabe Brink, chairman of the heritage authority, it is an "iconic landmark, a symbol of Johannesburg and the richest gold fields the world has ever known".

Internationally renowned photographer David Goldblatt, in whose work Johannesburg has featured strongly, is ambivalent.

"The mine dumps were the curse of our lives when I was growing up and the dust blew. But they are part of my upbringing. They are a landmark to me.

"So, in a way, I am sad to see them go," he says. - Sapa


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