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As a child, when the air smelled sulphurous my mother would blame it on the explosions in the dark heart of Modderfontein, ringed by trees and mystery. Now, I can’t help but think how different things are as I walk along clean and quiet streets on a weekday morning tour with Modderfontein resident Robbie Vermont, who has been involved in the Modderfontein Conservation Society for 27 years. It’s like taking a trip back through time. There are few cars on its deserted streets, no buses and no minibuses. The only sounds come from the children playing at break-time at the Montessori school, and the hellos Vermont exchanges with those working in the area who know him by sight. While the AECI factory is still in operation, Vermont tells me, explosives are much safer nowadays than before. That is why the village is open to the public — there are restaurants to eat at, a farmers’ market is held monthly — and the Modderfontein Reserve, a place of lakes, walking trails and restaurants, is...

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