Saturday, June 26, 2010
Tau Tona - Visiting Dante
I just got back from a trip underground at the worlds deepest mine face. AngloGold Ashanti’s Tau Tona gold mine in Carletonville, South Africa reaches an incedible 3.7kms into the Earth’c crust and it is quite an experience being down there. Safety is their number one priority and rightly so, evacuation just doesn’t happen fast when you are that tucked away under kilometers of rock and under threat from collapse, fire, toxic gas, machinery and flooding.
The virgin rock temperatures are 55 celcius while the air is artifically cooled to 28.5 deg (the neighbouring mine uses snow blowers!). However, the humidity is stifling and there is little air movement. For those unaccustomed, it is a sweat bath in confined spaces! To see the work in progress is facinating as is seeing the miners and hearing the fanagalo - buka lo number three ka mina phansi…
A few things stand out for me after this visit:
1) Miners: They have all my respect as that is NOT as easy or friendly environment to work in, regardless of world leading safety and technology.
2) Despite some industrial and medical uses, gold’s main market remains aesthetics - jewelery. I just have a tough time wrapping my head around all this gargantuan effort, infrastructure and impact for the sake of twinkly bits.
3) Socio-politics: This was an interesting trip for me, a young white South African, as mines were the nexus for some major political events and realities in South Africa. We all new about our mineral economy, we knew about migrant labour, we all learned and sang shosholoza - a song about migrant labour on trains leaving SA and of course there was the mine hostel politcal faction fighting. It was interesting for me to go a see the ‘gold face’ where scores of migrant labourers from Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and further abroad came to work to send home remittance money to families. They were the African diaspora at the bottom of deep shafts, very much part of daily South African life but very much out of physical view of daily life.
The tour was part of the International Marketing Council / Brand South Africa US Blogger Tour.