JOHANNESBURG is being honeycombed by zama-zama miners, according to reports. These illegal freelance miners are digging and blasting underground for gold, often in the dangerous proximity of fuel and gas pipelines that could blow up. Their activity could cause soil subsidence, to the extent there's apparently a danger of FNB Stadium, in Soweto, being swallowed up.
The Department of Minerals and Energy is investigating. While they're about it, they might care to look for evidence of some zama-zama work in Maritzburg many years ago. The tunnels must still be there.
It happened at Merchiston prep school – the "Merchie Mudrats", as they are known for their proximity to the Umsinduzi River, that flows through the city – at the school's old premises between Burger and Prince Alfred Streets.
In a corner of the grounds the boarders were encouraged to keep vegetable gardens. Then came the movie, The Wooden Horse, about the way British prisoners of war tunnelled their way out of a German prison camp, digging their way from under a wooden exercise horse, over which their pals were vaulting.
Very soon a proliferation of tunnels began in the boarders' vegetable patch, the mouth of each covered by a box of seedlings. One group even set out to tunnel under the adjoining road, to come up in Oxenham's Bakery the other side and get at the pies.
One shudders at the recollection. But the loam of the soil must have been exactly right. There was not a single collapse, no disaster, no tragedy.
One afternoon the headmaster suddenly appeared and engaged a couple of us in conversation about lettuce seedlings, quite unaware that beneath the seedling box was a fellow with a paraffin lamp, waiting to get out of the tunnel. Hey, this was like engaging the Nazi commandant in small talk while the fellows were tunneling under the wooden horse.
Fortunately, the tunneling craze petered out before there could be disaster. People just got tired of it. The group targeting the bakery across the road found that roads have pretty deep foundations. They gave up.
And the extraordinary thing is that, as far as I know, the school staff never found out about the episode. Those tunnels might still be there – traces of them anyway. Yes, one shudders at the recollection.
DID you hear? They're putting a clock on the Leaning Tower of Pisa. That way it will have the time and the inclination.
But that could change. They're detilting the Leaning Tower. In fact it's already lost some of its tilt.
According to Sky News, the 57m structure has straightened by 4cm over 17 years. This follows engineering work to prevent its eventual complete collapse. In 1990 it was closed to the public because its lean of 4.5m was considered critical and dangerous.
That's now improved by 4cm over 17 years. I guess it's going to be a while before we can talk about the Upright Tower of Pisa.
I ONCE knew a golfer who was called Leaning Tower. A lanky fellow, the longer he lingered at the 19th hole, the more he leaned over backwards.
He was the Leaning Tower of Phuza.
I TRIED to join the local rambling club. But this fellow I got on the phone just went on and on and on.
Never explain - your friends do not need it and your enemies will not believe you anyway.