Mining Landscapes

GCRO Research Project
with Kerry Bobbins

View the report here

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Over 130 years ago, gold mining turned the Highveld landscape into a site of mass extraction and city building. As the site of the world’s largest gold deposits, Johannesburg and its hinterland grew quickly, expanding into South Africa’s most populous and economically important city-region. This extractive process wrought significant effects across Johannesburg’s physical and social landscapes. This research report delves into the social and environmental impacts of mining in Johannesburg. Investigating specifically the interfaces between built form and mining waste, it offers insights into how these legacies can be best managed and overcome. An extract from the introduction:

“While the effects of mining on the wider city-region and its people are patent, the nuanced and evolving gold mining-related ecosystem that has rooted itself in the Witwatersrand over the last century is intricate and complex. A vast mining landscape is caused by and manifested in a series of disparate processes. These include: the abandoned mine areas that scatter its surface; the funding that built Johannesburg; earth tremors caused by the excavated cavities below the earth; silicosis, a preventable lung disease brought about by unsafe working conditions in the mines; toxic lakes caused by acidic water emanating from mining voids; and new micro-economic opportunities in the form of informal mining. All these features and consequences constitute a vast and extensive mining landscape. The monumental trail of gold-mining waste that extends from Brakpan in the east of the Witwatersrand to Westonaria in the west and intersects Johannesburg’s inner city in the centre best exemplifies the city-region’s oldest and most expansive mining landscape. This report draws on the entwined complexity of this mining landscape as a conceptual device to highlight the need for a comprehensive and collaborative approach to manage the after-effects of the Witwatersrand’s gold mining. While mining operations continue in parts of the West Rand, gold-mining activity close to urban areas has largely ceased. Despite this, the vast mining landscape is by no means static. Massive quantities of mine waste are processed constantly for their relatively minute gold content, which continually reshapes the superficial layers of this landscape. Abandoned mining areas are mined informally for scrap metal and informal miners open up old shafts to seek new sites for gold mining. In addition, dust clouds cause adverse health effects in surrounding communities; old mining towns fall into decline as mining work ends; and the city-region’s precious metals continue to be sold on global markets.”