Could gold mine be heritage site?

By Botho Molosankwe, Samantha Hartshorne And Anna Cox Time of article published Sep 14, 2016

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Johannesburg - When Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba visited George Harrison Park, he wondered why it had not been turned into a heritage site.

This is because the disused shaft in Langlaagte is located next to the site where gold was discovered in 1886 by George Harrison.

The park was declared a national monument in 1944.

Mashaba, who went to the park on Sunday afternoon after the news of the trapped miners broke, said the site had historical significance. “This is a place we should have preserved, it cannot really be a place where illegal mining takes place. We should be here on a Sunday like this having thousands of international and local people coming to see and experience the foundation of our city.

Read also: Bodies of Langlaagte miners recovered

“Johannesburg was built around mining, gold in particular, why are we losing this opportunity?”

The mayor said the illegal miners should be working as tour guides and bus drivers.

What Mashaba didn't know was that in 2009, Central Rand Gold (CRG), which conducts an open mining activity a few metres away, signed a memorandum of understanding to construct a R5 million heritage precinct at the site.

But that never happened.

Jenny Moodley, spokesperson for Joburg City Parks and Zoo, told The Star that CRG spent only R160 000.

“They committed to the heritage aspect of the park but only ended up paying for the design of the park,” she said, adding that Joburg City Parks and Zoo decommissioned the park a year ago.

“We put up a signboard stating that access was prohibited following concerns over the illegal mining.”

Moodley said the park was under the curatorship of the City of Joburg and the provincial heritage body and that Joburg City Parks and Zoo was responsible only for its horticultural care.

She said CRG excavations on the south side of the adjacent mines left the area exposed to illegal miners who used the park to access the shafts.

The Star reported in 2014 how Keith Matier, CRG’s head of geology, had said the group wanted to develop the park into a self-sustaining tourism hub, providing the local community with an income source through stalls, shops and vendors.

But as the project design progressed, it became apparent that the area was not at all suited for that sort of development as the park was in a semi-industrial zone, known for its high crime rate.

“Much of this crime is, in fact, linked to the underground workings that form George Harrison Park itself.

“While the park is no doubt an important historical site, nobody visits it for fear of being mugged or worse,” said Matier.

On a more practical note, the park was too small to house any real form of sustainable tourism. There was barely space for stalls and no space for parking.

“More detailed discussions with the community failed to get their buy-in as they too recognised the project wasn’t sustainable. CRG were told that the George Harrison project wasn’t what they wanted,” he said.


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