Rosemary Levin (nee Driman)

Here I was a young ballet dancer leaving for the first time my childhood home in Johannesburg to come up to Rhodesia. A friend of mine a member of the Sadlers Wells Ballet company would be performing in Bulawayo to celebrate the Rhodes Centenary Exhibition in July 1953. I had come to see her dance. Little did I realise that soon I would become a Rhodesian and make this my country.

We met, Norman and I during my ten day visit - We fell in love - and we married three months later in October 1953. I went to my first home in the Rhodesian bush to a small gold mine, the ‘Redboy’ where for the past four years Norman was manager. Our home was a rough dagga and thatch cottage. Sweetpeas sprawling on the ground and enormous zinnias growing. A small hill and scrub all around us. Blisful day and nights - As I sat on the edge of my bed one night, a huge pink hairy spider came straight for me. Springing onto the bed another spider now appeared. “You will have to get used to them,” Norman said, and from then on for years I slept tightly tucked under a mosquito net - - -

In 1954 we moved further Into the bush to our own mine the ‘Morven Mine’ living in a primitive mud brick house with outside toilet - a long drop - and beginning our gold mining career on our own as ‘small workers,’ a rare breed of men who stake their lives and perhaps their family’s in this precarious profession - tributing - and working a small gold mine with a handful of inexperienced workers and their wives and dependents. It was high risk, we were heavily undercapitalised, and the work was often dangerous. Cut off from most facilities - shops, schools, recreation, post. How we handled ourselves in this lonely pursuit and the rearing of our small children out in the bush with the unknown and unpredictable nature of mining would test us but the greatest test that would come to try us was the untimely occurrence of a serious motor car accident near the small town of Gwelo when I was just seven months pregnant in June 1959 with our third child.

I had sustained a high spinal lesion - a broken neck - a whiplash ‘just before the safety belt became mandatory.’ Meanwhile in that instant on a lonely strip road on June 5 th 1959 all our lives changed for ever. I left my two little daughters for more than a year. They were handed over for a few months to kind and willing friends who took them in with their small children until Norman could make adequate arrangements to get rid of the mine the ‘Morven’ and to rent a house in Bulawayo for Anna his mother, and the three children Marsha four, Sally two and new baby Sandra - Norman coming in to see the little girls when he could between his desperate attempts to run the mine and visit me now so terribly decimated by my condition, in the hospital - My condition requiring private nursing for several months until the birth was far beyond our means but the wonderful community in Bulawayo gave us help until we were able to pay back their kindness.

I was sixteen months in various hospitals - Bulawayo, Johannesburg, Stoke Mandeville in the U.K. but we returned at last to Rhodesia and our interrupted mining career. So early in 1961 we took our young family back with us to the country. We hired an old rambling house which was near the two small mines we were exploring at the time of our accident. Here we started again to reenter the mining world and to find ourselves.


The Beginning

Churning, boiling, bubbling magma 

molten spewing, fiery mass

squeezing upward, fighting, forcing

fuming, stinking sulphur gas

coffers belching vaulted treasure

fusing infiltrating hoard

mix and mingle with the magma

aeons past in safety stored.

Chaos lurching, surging harmony

untamed fury virgin igneous

chortling, gurgling, splendid destiny

rhythm crashing, cacophony of Orpheus

note upon note ever creschendoing

climax utter, awful, create

a billion years now must pass

for furies havoc to expiate.

Deep complete ascending silence

pressing like a healing balm

upon the terrible open gashes

easing, cooling, peaceful, calm


1961 * Smelt

 There are several different ways to treat the gold to bring every smallest possible particle into the hands of those intrepid enough to venture into the great unknown deep earth, untapped, unexplored, never beheld before by human eye, starting where it all begins - underground - Something deposited aeons ago then over and over again altered, changed through millions of years, tectonic tilt, shifting, moved, sheared, compressed, forced upward, pressed downward, re formed from the original magma, inclusions, intrusions, cracks, crevices, find me if you dare.

Divine this invisible body from perhaps a surface outcrop showing only a speck of mineral indicating that hidden hundreds of feet below the ground maybe a thin thread of the precious metal deposited many millions of years ago, contorting, snaking its fluid way, narrow or wide, waiting, or tailing off cut by a barren schistic thrust unapologetically deep through its potential to be lost for ever, to be or not to be exposed by some humans daring.

Perhaps an ancient surface trench dug long ago by some hopeful adventurer to shake around a dish a handful of dirt with water to seek a thin magic yellow trail tailing round the barren pan. Perhaps a shallow attempt by some long ago mine, long ago digging down into the earth then pulling out when too difficult to go on, too dangerous to risk as rock and sand or underground water pour in, to wait and wait for a braver or more foolish man to come along. Having brought the ore tonnage up to the surface it will now have to be sorted, removing waste material by hand, this exacting job of sorting effective and cost saving to put the better material through the mill, the pile of waste growing while the pile of pay dirt which will be milled invariably much smaller.

Now the rock must be crushed and sorted again dropping through a grizzly to grade into the correct size to feed the hungry mill. Up a conveyer belt the material is fed into the mill where steel balls and a steady flow of water are added, the heavy balls falling as the mills turn crashing down to finely crush the rock, powder fine to expose the hidden minerals. In time the balls wear and grow smaller and smaller and loose to the persistent action some of themselves. They must be replaced often. Now if the ore is non refractory, visible, we will attempt to catch the coarsest particles on a James table, the shaking table, ferreting out every trace of the yellow metal from the very fine to the more coarse.

Some of the fine crushed ore is too fine to be caught, the gold is not yet released and is hidden - refractory. It will go into the cyanide process. But the coarse visible stuff will go into the amalgam barrel with rocks and nitric acid, revolving for some twenty two hours, opened, washed of deleterious materials after some eighteen hours, mercury being added now and revolving the barrel again for a couple more hours further, eventually opened and poured over a prepared copper plated table coated with mercury, the amalgamated material adheres to the table, bonds, and is scraped off by hand with a heavy rubber squeegee, now the precious stuff will be placed in a mortar lined with a square of canvas, all four corners gathered together and hand turned and turned to squeeze out the mercury leaving a ball of dull silver amalgam - - - Collected over a month and eventually retorted.

The mercury given off is used again later when the barrel is refilled. The retort is placed over a prepared wood fire now, having reached perhaps 700 degrees Celsius. All the collected amalgam balls placed carefully inside. The high narrow bowl of the retort sealed with soft wet mud, ‘dagga,’ and the long thin pipe attached to the lid sloping downward into a pan of water. The mercury under this great heat is given off, retorted, as a gas leaving behind the gold and reforming in the dish a liquid again. Opening the dagga seal and removing the lid at last, to sometimes give a lacy tracery of gold, frilled around the top - retort gold - some beautifully formed pieces that would easily adapt to a brooch or pin.

But our prize is at the bottom of the retort where the main body of gold has settled, a good yellow colour indicating its fineness. On the Morven this could amount to seventy five percent of the months output. The rest will come from the clean up - - - Now the ultimate achievement of all this exhausting monthly labour both underground and on the surface - the smelt - when in the very early hours of the morning, about three hours before, the special circular firebrick furnace, coke fuelled is fired up to reach temperatures of perhaps fourteen hundred degrees Celsius. Now taking the filled calico bags of cyanide gold, so recently dissolved in cyanide solution, and then precipitated onto zinc shavings, then the zincs having to be burnt off with acid and water washed, or filtered and at last placed in the graphite crucible with the fluxes - borax, lead and fluorspar, an alchemists delight to place into the heart of the inferno adding bag upon bag as there is place in the crucible, stirring with a long rod this magical concoction simmering at these tremendous temperatures will now be ready for the most special event of the month - the pour - N is prepared along with two of his men.

The men don wet hosed down sacking aprons and asbestos gauntlets, wet thick cardboard tied around their legs, dark visors over their eyes. Gripping firmly a clamp with two long rods to hold. On either side perfectly directed and simultaneously N and one of the men take hold of the handles and grab the boiling crucible with the clamp, stagger back a few paces from the furnace and slowly unhesitant with perfect control, steadily, pour. The magic magma falls thick and fiery red to purple to yellow white and then it is finished and the two men shake out the last precious drop in to the waiting prepared conical steel mould. Tapping with hammers the tall cone shape and placing wet sacks impatiently around the metal.

Suddenly and with astonishing speed they turn the heavy cone over and out pours, still semi molten the brilliant glossy black slag and mysterious other element. N hammers and repeatedly hammers to free the gold from the slag splashing water on the small cone and throwing it into a pan of cold water. Within minutes it sits on his gloved hand hissing and steaming like a thing alive. “Here hold it,” he says to me a few minutes later. I take it. It is - the button - It’s like giving birth N says. So much effort so much of your guts has poured into producing this little piece of near pure gold. Normans baby.