A Large Iron Hard-Onby Andy Davis / 03.09.2009
Look upon this hulk of a man. Like a superhero from our history holding the chunk of rock with the glinting seam of gold up to the sky, before his God, the heavy miner’s pick in his left hand, his sinewy bronze muscles straining with metallic machismo. This statue is a large iron hard-on for Joburg’s defining moment.
And you’ve got to love Johannesburg, the city built on gold and dreams. Dreams of wealth, mainly. A spot of greed, avarice and pride mixed up in her effervescent blood stream. Ebbing back and forth between the haves and the nots, much like the crime wave. Swirling amidst the disparate communities and experiences, omnipresent in the hodge-podge melting pot of Afrika’s gritty combustion chamber. The statue functions as a kind of compass, in case we forget what we’re doing here. Get the gold, homey! Chase the loot. Make bucks. Dig the rock and hold it aloft so everyone can see. Jozi.
But the most wonderful thing about Joburg, is every now and again she offers us a glimpse of how she sees herself. Or, better, how former, apartheid era city council officials saw her. Much like the gym boy at Old Eds pumping iron in the mirror, sees himself. This statue of George Harrison, no not the 5th Beatle, the original discoverer of the rich vein of gold upon which the city was built, speaks volumes of the city’s exaggerated hubris and myth making.
Just 123 years ago an ageing Australian prospector, of suspicious moral fiber, was traipsing through the endless highveld savannah that is now populated by Johannesburg. In between lashing his beasts of burden (and, probably, his slave labour) and shooting some of the many buffalo, elephants, rhinos, giraffes, elands, lions, leopards and other game that called this place home, he took some time to do a spot of prospecting. Stories of gold on the reef had been circulating for some time, after discoveries in the Lowveld and Barberton, and so Harisson kept with him a small prospector’s pick to chip away at rocky outcroppings in search of the elusive metal and his fortune. Somewhere near the Langlaagte Vehicle Testing Station he stumbled across such an outcropping of rock. Being an old man, he probably stooped over the rock and chipped a small piece off with his pick and held it up, like a small, aged hobbit squinting into the light, to see the vein glint and shimmer.
He certainly looked nothing like this Hercules. Harisson then staked his claim and started mining, but with little success. The Goldrush ensued, and others were luckier. Who knows why, but Harisson soon sold his claim for £10 and slunk off into the veld, perhaps to return home to Australia. No one knows. He disappeared soon after. Some reports suggest that he was murdered after falling foul of an acquaintance. Who knows
Perhaps most tellingly, the large bronze plaque that declared: ‘George Harisson Discovers Gold’, at the base of the monument, has been stolen.