Another Day, Another Blog

May 5, 2007

A town called Welkom

Filed under: elsewhere, the joy of life — iamza @ 7:00 am

I used to live in a town called Welkom (or, translated into English, Welcome). After the thriving metropolis of Johannesburg, Welkom felt small and rural. Stuck out in the middle of nowhere, Welkom was largely a centre for the local mining and farming communities, which made for an interesting mix. Rolling golden wheatfields and the occasional cattle herd were interspersed with barbed wire fences (and numerous KEEP OUT! signs) surrounding clusters of tin-roofed buildings, dirty warehouses, and an enormous pseudo-ferris wheel.

Welkom is surrounded by gold, but at the time I lived there, you would never have known. Gold prices the world over were plummeting, and many of the mines, marginal to begin with, were closing up shop. Eavesdrop on any conversation in town, and invariably it would turn to the sad state of the gold mining industry, and how tight things were at home.

With a population of 300,000, Welkom was not exactly a country village, and yet it retained some of that charm. The market came to the park in the town centre one Saturday a month. The other three Saturdays, people spent the mornings in the local shopping mall, or at the garden centre, or in the park, eating ice-cream and playing tag with the sea-gulls. At lunch time, the shops and banks closed down — except for the local burger joint which doubled as a coffee shop.

I lived in mine-housing, which felt a lot like a hotel. My room was like a studio flat, only without a kitchen. I had a bed, desk and bookshelves, and a seating area with two sturdy chairs and a round coffee table that had seen better days. The adjoining bathroom was huge, tiled in white, and all my own. For some strange reason, the bathroom made me think of Florida — I think it might have been the wood-slatted doors on the cupboard — and I always wanted to add a miniature palm tree to stand guard over the bath. I don’t know what I paid in rent for that room, and the food we got served, but it wasn’t enough.

There wasn’t a lot of chatter between residents of the hostel — largely, I suppose, because the residents were transitory. Some people stayed for days, others weeks, and some, I’m sure, are there even now.

After a few weeks, I made friends with a lady who was working as a physiotherapist/health worker for one of the mines. She was engaged to be married, and dreamed of the day when she’d finally escape into a home all her own. She loved craftwork, and her room was full of things she’d painted and made — from flowerpots and pottery to bedding and cushions.

The guy who lived down the hall from her was an electrical engineer, and he was in the process of building his own radio. He’d already built a computer, and repaired a busted old TV. His desk was a mess of circuit boards and wires, and I was quite envious of his soldering kit.

Across from him was the tall and lanky musician who had three electric guitars — he spent his days as an underground mine supervisor, and his nights with his band. 

Welkom was laid back, quiet and relaxed. Except when it snowed, and then the whole town simply ground to a halt. Shops and banks closed, and most of us made our way down to the park. I’ve never seen so many snowmen and igloos and forts from which to stage snowball fights in one place. It was like the townspeople, all of us, were ten years old again. A day later, the snow was gone, and the park was empty again. The only reminders of that momentary child-like glee were the sagging and deformed ice stalagmites poking up from damp grass where once snowmen stood.


1 Comment »

  1. We came to welkom in 1955 and can remember standing outside a prefab building waiting tobe takento my class the 7b Those days we where a dual medium high school with about 500 pupils.Later on the english kids broke away forming Welkom High with Monty du Toit as head boy A few years down the line all the kids living on one side of Stateway went to the new afrikaans high school Goudveld It was really a great time to be growing up in the platteland The athletics the rugby derbys etc We were one of the first matric classes out of the new school building(1958) Later I went to UOFS obtained a B com and teaching diploma. I taught at Welkom High for about 8 years and later at Unitas Left Welkom in 1989 for Knysna where I now run a guest house GLEN HOUSE
    We offer self catering flatlets contact me at044 3810048 thanks

    Comment by patrick booysen — November 4, 2011 @ 2:35 am

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