26 August 2002
Take your next tipple almost a quarter of a kilometre underground in what used to be a donkey stable in one of the world’s richest and deepest gold mines. That is, of course, if you don’t mind damp, dark places and don’t suffer from claustrophobia.
You can book this pub any day of the week from 5pm to 9pm, and get there by taking a large, clangy lift down 226 metres to spend a few hours where, back in the 1920s, some 300 donkeys stayed for three months while pulling cocopans filled with gold-laden rocks for removal above ground.
The pub is on level 5 of the mine known as Shaft 14 on what used to be Langlaagte, the farm on which the main reef was first discovered in Johannesburg in 1886, some six kilometres south of the city centre. The mine goes down 57 levels or 3 500 metres, and over its 90-year lifespan produced some 1.4 million kilograms of gold, blasted out of the ground by 30 000 miners.
The mine is part of the 100-kilometre reef stretching from Boksburg in the east to Randfontein in the west, and visible from a distance with its impressive head gear protruding above the surrounding mine dumps.
The pub – or the wooden doors of the old stable – is visible in the underground mine tour of Shaft 14 at Gold Reef City, the historical village, casino and pleasureland. The tour takes 35 minutes and will give you a glimpse of what it must have been like to work 12-hour shifts down the mine.
When Shaft 14 was opened in 1897, just 11 years after Johannesburg was established, there was no electricity at the mine. Lighting underground was by means of candles, which posed a risk for explosions caused by methane gas. Combined with the darkness, the wetness, the heat, the closeness and the ear-shattering noise of the drills, it was a tough way to earn a living.
Get ready to block your ears! (Picture: Lucille Davie)
The underground temperatures range from 30 degrees to 50 degrees, but with cooling systems temperatures can be maintained at around 28 degrees. With each drop of 100 metres underground, the temperature increases by one degree.
If you were wondering why the donkeys only stayed below ground for three months, it was because after that time they had invariably gone blind.
As you step out the lift underground, you look ahead to a whitewashed tunnel – to help returning miners adjust from the darkness to the brightness outside – and spend the tour walking down two-metre high tunnels, with the cocopan track down the middle of the tunnel.
Source: City of Johannesburg web site