Growing up in Rustenburg, the threat of it becoming a ghost town with the termination of the mines was always a sword hanging over our heads.
Rustenburg (rus teen berg), was dubbed by the voortrekkers who found a place to rest at the foot of the Magaliesburg mountains, as we were taught by our primary school teachers. The Magaliesburg mountain range, was one of the things I missed the most about home when I moved to the city. In Rustenburg, wherever you go, you see the mountains. Whether you are in the township or in the suburbs, the outline of the mountain is always there, bearing witness to the happenings of the city.
My dad, a state employee, had tried for years to get employment on the mines. I remember him telling us how exponential amounts of money would be pumped into our household. We would live on the mountains, in a mansion, like those mine managers. In the boiling hot summer, we would have a massive pool to swim in, like those mine managers. After school our mother would fetch us in a smart car, like those mine managers wives. We would get to go to private school, like those mine managers children. I would wear branded clothing, like those mine mangers daughters. And we would go on holiday every year, like those mine managers families.
Well, we are friends of the mine managers. We visit their mansions on the mountains, we swim in their big pools, we see them drive in their smart cars, we are friends with their children who go to private schools and who wear branded clothing and we hear about their luxurious holidays. We see them revel in their opulence. We are amongst the masses who watch this spectacle. We are amongst the masses who flock to Rustenburg to become a mine manager’s family.
Sometimes the windows rattle when there’s an explosion, but we are used to hearing the resonance of labour happening three kilometres beneath us.
23 years later, we still live in the same three-bedroom house in the township, on the outskirts as the Apartheid government wanted it. We have a moderately sized yard, still without a swimming pool for those merciless summers. Our parents still drive their economical cars, we still have our government education, we wear affordable clothes and we are lucky to go on holidays. Only, we feel tremors from the underground work. Sometimes the windows rattle when there’s an explosion, but we are used to hearing the resonance of labour happening three kilometres beneath us.
But, with the strikes, not all things are the same. The mountains seat empty houses. The city is quiet. Men do not rise early to travel from the townships to go to work. Their children are hungry. They cannot pay school fees. The red berets hold protests and out of desperation for change, the previous ANC-dominated Rustenburg is now on their side. Churches hold marches and prayers for peace because no one wants a repeat of the “M-word”. Even if the platinum producers and the unions reach an agreement, it will be too late to recover economically. Rustenburg is a shell of the city she was. The mountains frame a soulless canvas.
And the mine managers, they still live in their mansions on the mountains, with their big swimming pools, driving their smart cars, sending their children dressed in branded clothing to private schools and going on luxurious holidays. The mountains still stand, overlooking the ridiculous irony of humanity.