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Pole to Pole

Day 126: Johannesburg

Michael Palin - Pole to PoleFirst good night's sleep - five unbroken hours - since my dip in the Zambesi. Probably just as well, for today promises no respite for the body. We are to go down one of the gold mines on which the wealth of Johannesburg and indeed the whole of South Africa is based. One third of the country's export earnings comes from gold, and the proceeds from coal, platinum, uranium and other minerals found in these rich seams raise this to almost two thirds. A new mine can cost twenty billion rand (£3.8 billion) to develop. It isn't surprising therefore that mining is a tight, white-run operation.

Western Deep Mines, developed by Anglo-American, one of the six private companies that control ninety-five per cent of gold production, is kept almost pathologically clean and tidy. Despite the water shortage, sprinklers gently douse the lawns on the approach to the offices, and men with pointed sticks are at work removing kerbside litter.

We are briskly and efficiently processed, like patients at an expensive private hospital, into a reception-room where coffee and pastries are served under the clean-cut, clear-eyed gaze of the directors of Anglo-American whose framed photos are the only decoration. Then we are shown into a changing-room where every single item of our clothing has to be exchanged for a company outfit, and minutes later we re-emerge, in white boiler-suits, safety helmets and rubber boots,as Western Deep Visitors.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 126
  • Country/sea: South Africa
  • Place: Johannesburg
  • Book page no: 282

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