Slice of life: Dumped: Popcorn, sex and gold



At least the weeds are happy. Springing up after torrential rains, they have spread bits of green blanket over the red earth of the abandoned mine dump. Pools of rain remain in the holes left by the DRDGold’s diggers that mined the dump to recover the gold remaining in the tailings.

A well-worn shortcut winds its way between the pools. That, at least, is a use for what was once a landmark on Johannesburg’s horizon and central part of the Egoli story.

The Ferreira mine dump started growing in the late 1800s, when gold under an otherwise nondescript part of the highveld was found. Excavations, open pits and deep shafts removed millions of tonnes of soil.

Ferreira rose 50m into the sky, challenging the height of the gold-built city centre across the M2 highway. Then in the 1960s, the dump’s flat top became the Top Star drive-in. Cars wound their way up the thin tar road around it, parking next to sound boxes that had to be turned to the wavelength of that week’s blockbuster.

Without television in the country, it became a place to see the stars, both above Johannesburg and on the giant, white screen set against the background of the city’s skyscrapers. With strict parents, it also became a place for young lovers. In 2006, this stopped. DRDGold wanted what was beneath the cement parking lot. Heritage groups objected (the dump is over 60 years old and thus qualifies as a heritage site) but lost. So Top Star vanished. Without mine dumps, a major part of the story of the city of gold is also disappearing.

DRDGold promised to rehabilitate the area to appropriate environmental standards and build homes and businesses. Instead, it made a reported R8-million and left behind the dust that blows over Jozi. Now, the weeds have dominion. 

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Sipho Kings
Sipho Kings is a former acting editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian

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