Tin-town his­tory

go! Platteland - - HIDDEN GEM -

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...

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