Koos Engelbrecht, who sells his wife’s homebaked goodies outside Rooiberg One Stop on Saturdays, arrived here in 1967 – “as a small young man,” he says, “and, as you can see, 50 years later I’ve now become a small old man.”
“I worked at the tin mine as a paymaster but I’m really an outdoorsy person, so after a year and four months, I left the office job and moved over to the plant side, where I ended up working for 27 years.”
For the last 20 months before Gold Fields closed the Rooiberg section of the mine in 1992, Koos was in charge of the plant and the smelters. Many Rooiberg residents lost their jobs when the mine shut down. Koos was one of the lucky ones who was moved to the Leeupoort section before it, too, closed its doors in 1994. He then spent four years at the Greenside coal mine between Witbank and Ogies before taking early retirement and returning to Rooiberg.
“You must have noticed that massive mine dump sticking out above the tree tops over there,” he says. “It’s already much smaller than it was, because they’ve removed quite a lot of it since 1992, but we started it right from the bottom in 1969.
“The Gold Fields policy was that the mine had to support itself, and when Russia oversupplied the worldwide market with tin – I think that was in 1992 – the price plummeted from R36 000 to R12 500 per tonne. The Rooiberg mine simply wasn’t economical any longer, so it was tickets for us… On 12 February 1994 I conducted my last smelt over at Leeupoort.”
Later that day Platteland discovered a cutting displayed on a wall in the Koekepan Pub Restaurant that contained more information about mining activities in the area. This piece, under the headline “Op Rooiberg huil mens twee keer” (“In Rooiberg you cry twice”), was apparently written in the late ’80s and stated the following:
The start of the mine “According to ‘modern’ history the Rooiberg tin mine was launched 80 years ago with the founding of the Rooiberg Minerals Development Company in 1908. In those days, England was the biggest consumer of tin and was therefore very eager to find more tin deposits – there are many signs of the ‘Cousin Jacks’ who mined here at the beginning of the century. Originally three different mines operated autonomously in the area, but today they all belong to Gold Fields of SA, and Leeupoort, Vellefontein and Rooiberg are run as one mine.”
Long, long ago “There is plenty of evidence that mining activity had already started here between 500 and 900 years ago. A skeleton found near Rooiberg indicates this time period. It is of a black person, but not at all related to the black people we know today. Interesting theories are that the Sumerians, Phoenicians, Egyptians or Arabs used these black people as slaves in the mines. Slave chains have been excavated by archaeologists. A large amount of ‘ancient’ mining equipment was also found, which is evidence of the primitive mining methods that were used. Yet these methods were effective and very little waste rock was removed. The tunnels indicate that the people who worked in them were of small build. Fires were built against the stone walls and lit. Cold water was then thrown on the hot stone to crack it. This resulted in tunnels with smooth walls, in contrast to the rough surfaces created by modern mining methods. The current manager of Rooiberg, Mr Les Rayner, says archaeologists found some fires that had been laid but never set alight. Unfortunately the wood crumbled when they touched it. It’s also speculated that there had to have been a connection with the people who lived in Zimbabwe. There are signs in several places of a road that definitely led from Rooiberg in the direction of the Zimbabwe ruins.”
The many uses of tin Among other things, it is used to harden other metals. Evidence suggests that tin was used in bronze ornaments and implements as early as 3 500 BC. Napoleon Bonaparte was one of the first people to see the potential of preserving food in tin and some of the first tinned food was taken along on his journeys. The uses of tin today are even greater and more complex.
FAR LEFT Koos Engelbrecht reported for duty as paymaster at the Rooiberg mine in 1967, but before long he moved over to the plant, where the mine dump pictured here was started in 1969. Today, it’s smaller than it used to be, Koos says, because when...