On the mines
David Goldblatt is one of today's most important contemporary photographers both for his social commitment and for the quality of his compositions.
These photos were shot in the 1960s; the work is surprising for its toughness and diversity.
The mines are always a huge component of South African life. While they represent the country's great wealth they also reveal its enormous social differences, they are emblematic of the complexity of the issues at stake in South Africa.
Foto Industria is the first in Europe to present this exhibition created by the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg.
Greaser, No. 2 North Winder, Randfontein Estates, 1965.
Team leader and mine captain on a pedal car in the Rustenburg Platinum Mine, Rustenburg, 1971.
B. Falk, mine captain, City Deep Gold Mine, Johannesburg, 1966
Time office clerks and a miner, City Deep Gold Mine, Johannesburg, 1966
Born in Randfontein in 1930.
Lives and works in Johannesburg.
On the mines
As white children growing up in Randfontein we enjoyed almost unfettered freedom to roam among the mines that were strung out in a long arc that curved around the town. These mines belonged to Randfontein Estates Gold Mining Company, 'the Estates' which, we were told, had the biggest output of any goldmine in the world and hence the biggest minedump. On our bicycles we rode the footpaths and roads that veined the veld and connected the Estates' many parts.
There were two prohibitions: never to enter fenced off areas that carried signs with the skull and crossbones and the warning, CAVING GROUND; and not to play on the slimes dams, formed by the slurry that came from the mill. Under their gnarled surfaces there were said to be hollow spaces into which one could disappear if the dried mud gave way underfoot. But we did play on the sand dumps, especially one far out of town that we called Whitey, for its fine white sand. We tumbled and tobogganed down its sides and cavorted naked on its hidden dunes. Ronnie Perkins and I found a disused tunnel just below the surface of an old working in the Stubbs. Here we lit candles and held meetings of our gang of two. There were two lakes: the warm Robinson, which was the cooling dam for the steam that drove the power station's turbines, and the cold, water from underground, Homelake, preferred for family picnics, swimming in after school and later, for necking. Among the trees surrounding it was 'The Homestead', a secluded area with the grand houses of the General Manager and senior officials. The GM's house had been the home of the buccaneering Randlord, Sir J.B. Robinson, founder of Randfontein Estates.
The blast of the mines' steam hooter could be heard right across town. It signalled the change of shift, but also, blown at the wrong time, an emergency, perhaps a major accident in a shaft or a tribal clash in a compound. My father, men's outfitter, had a regular bridge game with Benny Celine, baker, P.D. Hamilton, senior mine doctor and Billy Mitchell, chief engineer.
One night an emergency hooter sounded. The two officials laid down their cards, said, Thank you Eli, and went off to help deal with it. Hamilton smelt faintly and always of ether, piloted his own aeroplane, drove a Packard and was known for his ability to reconstruct bones crushed in accidents and riots. There was blind innocence to our meanderings on the Estates. We took care to avoid Pondo miners. Inscrutable in their ochre blankets, our myth had it that they were 'dangerous'. We didn't know their language, we didn't know anyone who had been harmed by Pondos, but we feared them. Stopping at one of the headgears, we watched in awe as a chanting team of some 20 black men, moving as one, swung a steel railway line off the ground, into the air and onto their shoulders, then walked it, singing, to where it was needed, but never wondered about their lives, living in compounds, sleeping 40 to a room, far, far from families. For a pittance. White men were the officials, the bosses; they lived in the married quarters with their families. That was the order of things.
Exhibition organized with the support of Goodman Gallery
Fotografie / Photographs
© David Goldblatt and Goodman Gallery, South Africa