13 April 2014

South Africa: A Story of South Africa - Mining, Migration, Misery


Mining and migration have gone hand in hand since the Neolithic era, but the special impact of industrial strength mining and Apartheid brought special characteristics and problems that live on to today. J. BROOKS SPECTOR contemplates the result.

Back in the mid-1970s when this writer first came to South Africa to work, one of the things that seemed mandatory to do was to visit some of the country's famous - or infamous - diamond and gold mines. Reading about them was one thing, but even reading all those "Jim Comes to Joburg"-style novels of struggle and survival on the mines by migrants from rural areas or carefully examining a book like "On the Mines" - the one with those evocative David Goldblatt photographs paired with Nadine Gordimer's essay ("Mines of the beloved country: Through the mind of a photographer and essayist") - did not prepare one for the reality of it all meant that came from actually visiting working mines.

Then, as it happened, in 1975, the Chamber of Mines went on a kind of charm offensive (perhaps as if to say, "The mines aren't bad places, just misunderstood ones"). They extended an invitation to visit a working gold mine...

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