Work and wellbeing on the urban periphery

The latest maHp research collaboration with Security at the Margins (SeaM) sought to understand the labour and health/wellbeing conditions that informal artisanal small-scale mining (ASM) communities on the periphery of Johannesburg reside in (download the full report here). In this blog, the team – Zaheera Jinnah, Jo Vearey, Thea de GruchyGoitse Manthata (along with Sam Spiegel and Jessica Yu of the University of Edinburgh) – share some of their insights from this study.
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.


Finally we hear from a Zimbabwean underground miner who reveals the intricacies of mining and the dangers associated with it:

I started mining but in Felabus Bulawayo – there is gold mining and I use stamp and stamper to grind stones from mining – We use stamping machines to stamp stones to break into pieces or to become fine. Here there is a place where we buy metal pipes and use them to make stamping stamps also used chisels but they weld metal balls on chisels so that we are able to break gold mine stones.

So when I come in 2008 here in South Africa I started to be at Magogo site– it is different to see mines from here. In Zimbabwe mines are supported with timber pillars for safety here the mines were supported with stones mountain which used to be mined – now as people continue to mine gold they end up mining the pillar of stones which were left to support as the German and British to mining – gold.

 Durban Deep – Braamfisher – Mathole _ Tshepisong _ Durban Deep – Shanaville – again Crown Mines – Soweto Laanglate – Eastrand – Brakpan – Springs – Nigel – Benoni. In all these places – you will see mountains – the mountains from the dust and stones and around it are the shafts. It is our community. This dust and stones.

Now our mining women who grinds and haruza refine gold stones for us are being by (vovo) motors or soil which has been drained gold and left – They take it or they are also being paid with it by some of us who go underground. They take vovo or burn it on fire using a zinc- braai it until it dries, then after it dries they refine it and drain it again after refining it now vovo will be soft and fine powder.

Also again police is now the robber of illegal miners, they don’t work like in Fatoyi. Police from Roodepoort always demand money from penduka or drainage owners every day. He is not shy and abuses foreigners. It is police but doing and bad work – dirty work.

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'.