Mining & Society
Theme Leader: Dr Kally Forrest
In 2011 SWOP secured a research grant of R 1.6 million from the NRF, to be used over a three-year period (2012-2014) for research on the impact of mining on society. The grant covers a PhD fellow, a postdoctoral fellow, and a large quantum for research expenses and for travel and collaboration . The research programme is a study of two mining centres, Welkom and Rustenburg and the social, environmental, economic and developmental impacts of mining thereon. Welkom, a centre of the gold mining industry in the apartheid era is now in steep decline while Rustenburg is the core of platinum group mining which has grown massively in the post-apartheid period. The emphasis falls on Rustenburg as the fastest growing town in Africa.
Research focuses on two overarching themes. The first relates to the making and unmaking of social orders and how this is experienced by mining working class and local communities. The second relates to stratification and class formation amongst labour in the mines and residents in communities. The research questions underlying these themes are in essence: as old formations fragment is new social organisation revealing an urban coherence or a splintering leading to heightened conflict and disorder? Does this fragmentation hold dangers for labour’s power and workers’ organisation on the mines? And with the growth of informal settlements bringing together people of disparate backgrounds what hierarchies, stratifications and exclusions are emerging as residents jostle for influence and resources. The subsequent Marikana labour dispute and massacre illustrated that we are asking exactly the right kinds of questions.
The project involves research collaboration between SWOP and the Centre for Sustainability in Mining and Industry (CSMI) based at Wits, which brings a focus on environmental and health and safety impacts as well as on the multiple regulatory regimes that have an impact on the mining order. This includes examining the accumulated impact of mine openings and closures at a local and regional level – an important issue, as mining regulation focuses on individual mine impact assessments, thus missing the massive social restructurings, dislocations and environmental disruptions that follow from the aggregated impact of numerous mines in the same area.
The project was launched in 2012 and the year involved conceptualising research questions; putting research fellows into the field and recruiting further researchers; and building relationships with research partners and other research actors to avoid duplication and to deepen our understanding of the mining terrain.