The New Largo Colliery

My beautiful pictureIt is impossible to understand South Africa and its people and history without understanding the mining industry. Without mining, there is no power, no production, no industry. Mining provides jobs for every layer in society -from the unskilled poor to the middle class engineers to the rich owners. It takes from the earth that which cannot grow back: Gold, diamonts, coal, platinum. Above all, mining is vergankelijk, it sometimes burns bright and brief, and leaves an empty shell, a scar in the earth. A story to illustrate:

My aunt, Judy Moira van Eeghen, told me about her childhood growing up in a small mining settlement called the New Largo Colliery, some 120 kilometers east of Pretoria. Her father, Trevor Snowdowne Wilmot, was the manager of the mine from 1973 until 1986. It was an old fashioned shaft mine, a narrow corridor into the earth. Unskilled workers descended into the coaldust filled darkness and brought up coal for the powerplants that fueled the South African economy during the last years of Apartheid.

She remembers her father as a perfectionist and a hard worker. He made sure everything runned smoothly. Perfectly mowed lawns, green and lush, and white houses in the sun. Her father being the manager, they owned the largest house (see picture provided below). Foreman and teachers owned smaller houses and the unskilled black miners lived in the smallest houses, but not in poverty. All employees lived in the settlement, and everyone living there worked at the mine in some way or another.  It was a very close-knit micro society that included a school, a church and shops. Apart from managing the output of the  coal mine, her father’s duties also included organizing outings, marriage counseling and everything else to do with the social cohesion of the operation. My aunt Judy remembers one night as a small girl, listening to her father, desperately trying to talk one of his employees out of leaving his wife, and moving in with someone else’s wife.

But times got tough. Coal prices fell, and as a result, the mining town deteriorated. She sees her father grow more frustrated as he sees his town crumble. Eventually he quits his job as coal mine manager and they leave in 1986 to move back to where the family is originally from: the Eastern Cape. Green rolling hills, white waves crashing on a steep rocky coast.

Years later, she returns with her 9 year-old son, Jonathan. Her father is now an elderly man long retired. The New Largo Colliery has been reduced to piles of bricks and rubble. Squatters live in the remaining buildings. Her son is afraid of the dreary place. This is where she grew up. Perfect green lawns, white houses in the sun…

My beautiful pictureA recent twist to this story, the New Largo Mine will be reopened as an open pit mine to quench the South African thirst for coal power:


1 Response to “The New Largo Colliery”

  1. 1 Chuanita Coetzer 24/12/2013 at 6:44 am

    Good day Pepijn,

    Thank you very much for writing about this little village. My boyfriend grew up here as well and has talked about how lovely it was. He has also talked about Trevor Wilmot and the house that you have a photo of above.

    We went to show his children the other day and also only saw the rubble that represents so many memories. Do you not maybe have more photos that you will be able to share? We would so love to show the children what it looked like in it’s full glory.

    Thanks again,
    Chuanita Coetzer

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