Monday, 14 April 2008

The ghost of the mine shafts

This tale of South Africa's haunted mines comes from the pages of Homeless Talk, a newspaper written mostly by homeless people and sold by street vendors who themselves are homeless.

Luke Jentile, a former miner, contributes a column about his experiences under the heading Deep Levels. His April 2008 column is entitled Eerie tale from the shafts. He describes how miners get used to working in darkness, with the headlamps on their helmets often the only source of light. But sometimes, he says, it can become quite dreadful, especially when the veteran miners start telling their stories.

"The truth about these stories is uncertain, or it’s just a myth," writes Jentile. In some cases, clearly, they serve the traditional urban legend role of cautionary tale, with miners told not to go deep in unused sites. And falling rocks are not the only danger:

Jalimbo told us about a mineworker who got lost underground for about five days. He said the man was kidnapped by an underground ghost of someone who died there earlier.

The story went: "There are ghosts here, especially in the 'madala site'. I remember this guy who decided to take a short-cut through the unused site to the station. He got into trouble when his headlamp fuel expired and the light went off. He couldn’t move to nowhere as it was darker than the darkness of the surface. The he tried to move slowly on his knees with difficulty.

"Then something grabbed him by the arm. He tried to pull away but the thing held him tight and took him to a certain place where it gave him a shovel and said to him, Hey madoda, you work here, push down the stof rocks and make clean this madala site. But as he started working the ghost gave him a drilling machine to drill the hols on the rock wall. Next it told him to put the explosives in the holes. Afterwards the ghost told him to get off and rest.

"That went on for five days until this man was found by others who happened to go the same way. But he couldn’t speak, and tried to hide behind the timber packs. The men then rushed to alert the mine authorities, who then sent a rescue team to hunt for him.

"They found him and brought him to the surface. What shocked everybody was the writing all over his body. These were money figures in thousands, a message that the mine should pay him, or else trouble will befall the mine. So he was paid and given a permanent discharge."

It is a wonderful tale, worthy of the best of supernatural fiction; little wonder it gripped the imagination of miners. That it is an urban legend is beyond doubt: such an incident, especially involving numerous witnesses and the mine agreeing to pay out a “pension” as a result of it, would not easily be kept quiet.

The archetypal element of the ghost leaving a warning is a plot twist reminiscent of great horror stories and haunting. But to have the warning written into the victim’s skin is priceless; as a cautionary tale, it ensures that it will not be forgotten by impressionable young miners tempted to take short cuts.

  • The publication from which this story is quoted, Homeless Talk, is facing serious financial difficulties. It supports more than 400 homeless vendors who survive from selling the newspaper, and is appealing for public assistance in finance and computer equipment in order to continue helping the less fortunate. If you can assist, phone +27 11 838 6651 or e-mail

1 comment:

Unknown said...

The phone number for Homeless Talk has changed to +27 (0)81 384 3308.

Luke Jentile.

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