The GPS (Global Positioning System), without which long-distance drives in South Africa are unthinkable, takes us through a private game reserve where a herd of deer are lounging in the morning sun and by a hotel.
“This is a public road, otherwise it wouldn’t have showed up in the navigation,” insists Naeem, whose Opel Kadett has been a part of my life for the past 16 days, after sweet-talking his way past security at the game park and at the hotel.
By a sign that says Eesterling Monumente, the car veers off the wide, four-lane R101 and into a dirt track that’s between golden yellow and hash brown.
The barren hills in the distance make it seem like MacKenna’s Gold country and you can almost hear ‘Ol Turkey Buzzard’ in your mind as the car, caked in dirt, meanders towards where gold was first mined and crushed in South Africa.
“Before gold was discovered in Witwatersrand in 1885 and even before it was discovered at Barbeton or Pilgrim’s Rest in Mpumalenga (formerly Eastern Transvaal), gold had already been mined and crushed at Eesterling in 1871. Eesterling means first born,” says the board by squat tower now left desolate through disuse.
Eesterling is around 45km from Polokwane and a slight detour on the 330km drive to Johannesburg. Due to lack of machinery, South Africans Edward Button and William Pigg, according to the message board, initially used a large rock boulder to crush gold ore.
This was the first intensive mining of gold from quartz reefs. They later imported machinery from Scotland and an engineer too.
But after recovering 10kg gold by 1875, it was found that the cost of recovery from quartz reefs was too high.
Button closed the mine here but prospecting and mining continued and by 1885, more than 1000 people were working in Eesterling and adjoining farms.
This was a slight deviation from the frenzy that the World Cup’s been so far, the sound of silence welcome after the din of the Peter Mokaba Stadium.
As we returned to the highway, a van sped past, Argentina flags fluttering from its windows. The reverie was broken. Back to the World Cup.c