Artisanal Small-Scale Mining & Well-Being

Informal livelihoods are a fundamental part of the economies and social orders developing countries, and South Africa is no exception. The reasons for the emergence and persistence of the informal economy vary, but include high unemployment, high levels of regulation that act as barriers into certain sectors or occupations in the formal economy, low levels of education or skills in the labour force that are not matched in the labour market, and poverty and inequality.

Within this macroeconomic context, informal sector work and opportunities play a significant role as a source of livelihoods. This project, based on ethnographic fieldwork, studied one form of informal work, small scale and artisanal mining and explored its connection to the urban economi(es), both formal and informal, and to the mental and physical well-being of informal miners and the communities in which it is undertaken.

1. Jinnah, Zaheera (2017) Work and Well-being on the Margins: An ethnography of informal artisanal gold mining in Johannesburg.
For initial insights from this research project see this blog post, and for the full report click here.

2. Jinnah, Zaheera (2016) Between a rock and a hard place: Informal artisanal gold mining in Johannesburg. Africa at LSE (26 Jan 2016).

Other project outputs:
1. Public symposium

Photo essay:
In our ethnographic research of informal artisanal mining on the periphery of Johannesburg, we found a complex and interconnected community of networks, power and insecurity. The text below is excerpts of interviews with various individuals who form part of the informal mining community. The narratives weave together a sense of daily life in the community and provide an insightful glance into the intricate economy and society of informal mining.

At our research site we came across a South African man from KwaZulu Natal, an eastern province of the country and one of the labour sending regions for the mining sector. He is unemployed and perched on an upturned can overlooking the informal mining compound. He says:

Here there is a Xhosa landlord who claims to have 17 back houses including mukuku, 5 rooms and 12 mukukus – he enjoys renting them to Zimbabwean – Malawians and Mozambican because every month they pay their rent. Ah the miners- they have money!My local South African fellows they don’t want to pay rent and they will tell you I don’t have – Where will I have it from? – they don’t want to pay rental – but surprisingly Zimbabweans do pay rental – mukuku R450, water R50, electricity is included in the rental; Rooms R700, we mastand (landlords) we don’t pay water fees – electricity we do pay, but water we don’t pay – it is because municipality is corrupted. So we are also corrupted.Ah they have money these miners but they bring too much crime! If they get monies, they get drunk and they start fighting especially Zimbabweans Ndebele people – the other day I heard them near my gate and robbing an old father who they removed his clothes and left him naked – after the old man begged for them for his life, for them not to kill him – finally they left him naked – but one of the 3 guys who robbed the old man was shot dead the next day after trying to rob others. Ah they are trouble!Here in Mathole, we don’t have xenophobia – and we like people from outside –– we are earning a living because of them. So if they don’t get inside the shafts – it will be too bad, because who will pay rent? Right now per month I got 10, 000 – R15, 000 rental. We are the richest mastands (landlords) in Gauteng. We have also extended our yards and we are living well because of these miners!

We enter a nearby home and find a Zimbabwean woman who tells us her story, which in many ways mirrors the promise and precarity of informal mining:

I use to work at a hotel in Rosebank but now I am retired, I look after my yards – I have my own house with my first husband where a Zimbabwean guy stays and he pays me more than what I was earning in Rosebank. Me, I do stay here with my kids and second husband – My first husband died, he was working in a mine here. It is unsafe here – my security is my dogs here – you don’t enter without my dogs reacting. They could have hold me or pointed gun to me if not because of them, because you don’t just enter here anyhow. Look at my land, look at my money! It is the gold which gave me this, but my husband had to die for it.

About Zaheera Jinnah

Zaheera Jinnah has a PhD in anthropology and a background in development studies and social work. Her research interests are in labour migration, gender and diaspora studies. She is a research associate at the ACMS where she teaches, supervises graduate students, and engages in policy and academic research. Her recent publication is the co-edited book (Palgrave) ‘Gender and Mobility in Africa: Borders, Bodies and Boundaries'.