Mining landscapes of the Gauteng City-Region

  • Kerry Bobbins, Potsiso Phasha,, 

    Guy Trangoš, 

    Dr Siân Butcher

  • Date of publication: 1 January 2018
  • Download Research report

The extraction of gold along the Witwatersrand mining belt has fundamentally shaped the Gauteng City-Region (GCR) over more than a century. Mining in the region occurred across a vast area. The Witwatersrand basin is made up of three sub-basins – the West’, ‘Central’ and ‘East’ Rand – and stretches across a further seven distinct gold mining areas. These goldfields attracted prospectors, industrialists and work-seekers from across South Africa and around the world. They were responsible for the formation of Johannesburg and, over time, the development of large parts of the extended metropolis around it. For many years, gold mining produced immense wealth for mining companies, banks and residents – indeed the wealth extracted fired the entire South African economy. But there have been negatives. Gold mining also spawned a war, entrenched deep social divides, instilled exploitative labour practices, and devastated the natural environment. Though the industry is now in decline, the landscapes affected by mining are still identifiable by toxic scars that traverse the city-region.

This Research Report, GCRO’s seventh, considers how the legacies of mining have been imprinted on the towns and cities of the Gauteng City-Region. The report uses ‘mining landscapes’ as a conceptual device to structure an analysis of the diverse impacts of mining, and to highlight the need for a comprehensive and collaborative approach to manage its after-effects.

The report makes a unique contribution to existing literature on mining and mining waste in the city-region by presenting an integrated perspective on their urban, environmental, social and economic processes, characteristics and consequences, both historical and contemporary. While accounts are often told from the viewpoint of specific disciplines (such as history, geography or sociology), the analyses presented in this report – comprising of written pieces, archival excerpts and photo essays – are unbounded by distinctive disciplinary conforms. This allows for the diversity of the landscape to be explored in new ways.

The report makes a call for the GCR’s mining landscapes to be understood as a connected landscape of systems rather than a set of isolated and forgotten features of a bygone mining era. From the abandoned mine areas that scatter the surface of the GCR, to earth tremors caused by hollowed out cavities below the earth, silicosis, acid mine drainage, distressed mining towns and more recent histories of artisanal mining – the legacy of gold mining in Gauteng has a variety of expressions, all emerging from the same interconnected history. The concluding chapter looks to the future and considers the possibilities for innovative and collaborative approaches to unshackle the towns and cities of the Witwatersrand from their gold-mining inheritance. This includes the prospects for spatial transformation, repairing social divisions, cultivating natural assets, and remedying the destructive health and environmental effects of a century of mining activity.

The report comprises eight chapters:

  • Chapter 1 provides an introduction to the mining landscapes of the Gauteng City-Region, and sets out the purpose and structure of the Research Report.
  • Chapter 2 interrogates the historical mining-related processes that have contributed to the city-region’s divided urban form. It uses the conceptual devices of ‘Landscapes of pleasure’ and ‘Landscapes of production’ to examine urban divisions.
  • Chapter 3 investigates the legacy of mining waste on the region’s natural environment. It analyses discrepancies between policy and practice in the management of the Witwatersrand mining basins, and considers opportunities for addressing the legacies of poor environmental mismanagement.
  • Chapter 4 is a photo essay that illustrates some of the environmental impacts of mining on the West Rand areas of Gauteng, including acid mine drainage.
  • Chapter 5 further investigates abandoned mining areas, in particular the lasting health implications experienced by communities situated close to abandoned mining areas. It considers the environmental justice concerns associated with the spatial co-location of settlements and mining waste, and considers health challenges faced by former mine workers.
  • Chapters 6 and 7 examine new prospects for the city-region’s mining waste sites through two ethnographic photo essays, capturing the complexity and hardship of, first, illegal mining and, second, the scavenging for old metal waste on abandoned mine dumps.
  • Chapter 8 examines prospects for the GCR’s mining landscapes through an analysis of government and corporate rehabilitation programmes, including design exercises that imagine new and innovative futures for mining waste.

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