Winners and Losers in South African Gold Mining Areas


South Africa is one of the world and Africa’s leading gold producers. Due to the changes in ownership structures, gold mining has been earmarked as the prospective venture for empowering native Africans. Harmony gold’s mining company has been at the forefront in championing empowerment initiatives. It is owned by African Rainbow Minerals (De Kiewiet, 1978 p. 357). There has been a dwindling quantity of gold produced from the South African gold mines with the production falling by 6.5% to 373, 074 kg in 2003. In 2003, gold accounted for 37% of the South African export revenue (De Kiewiet, 1978 p. 357). Gold production in China has since surpassed the South African production capacity. Larger percentages of South African gold mines are underground. Increased mining depths and decline of quantities explored have led to an increase in the price of products made from gold. This has led to a restructuring of operations and hence retrenchment of workers (De Wet and McAllister, 1985 p.556). On several occasions, the South African gold mining sector has been hit by poor gold prices, a strong Rand, and high operation costs. This research paper will focus on the winners and losers in the South African gold industry. It will discuss how producers and or owners of gold mines reap benefits from the gold mining ventures while workers continue to wallow in perpetual poverty riddled with disease and exploitation. The research will take into account three perspectives while trying to delve into the winners and losers in the South African gold mining industry. These will be historical, sociological, and economic aspects.


The discovery of gold in South Africa in 1896 was prompted by diamond exploitation in Northern Cape. Laborers then started streaming into regions where there were prospects of striking gold. Gold miners stayed in compounds where they were segregated into ethnic groups. They were contracted for 18 months with the possibility of renewing these contracts being very slim. Source areas for these miners fell into three political categories including men from Mozambique in black homelands, men from former High Commission including Botswana, Lesotho, and Swaziland, and men who came from territories regarded as foreign countries like Tanzania. The fact that labor in the gold mines entirely came from the southern Africa region meant no prospects for laborers rising the skills ladder hence retardation. This was further complicated by color barriers (South Africa Revenue Services, 2005 p. 23). Witwatersrand Labor Organization in 1900 was given the power to recruit laborers in Mozambique, the main source of labor. The wars of 1899-1902 lowered demand for black labor leading to the loss of approximately 100, 000 jobs (South Africa Revenue Services, 2005 p.23). The colored labor was considered a source of labor but was never employed in the gold mine. This was according to structures that were set up by WNLA. In 1899 alone, two-thirds of labor in the gold mine came from Mozambique, followed by Transvaal and the Cape. By 1903, the black labor force halved down from 1899 figure of 90,000 (De Kiewiet, 1978 p. 357). Native Recruiting Corporation was formed in 1912 to help in cooperative recruitment exercises of workers. At this time Mozambique was still the chief source of labor in the South African gold mines. In 1977, an amalgamation of NRC with WNLA saw the birth of The Employment Bureau of Africa which up to now recruits black mineworkers from southern Africa. Before miners could be allowed to take up jobs in mining firms they were subjected to lengthy medical checkups. In 1907, out of 100, 000 gold miners, 470 succumbed to work-related hazards in underground mines. Most of these workers contracted pneumonia, a reason why workers from northern Mozambique were not recruited (De Kiewiet, 1978 p. 357). Apart from pneumonia, other leading causes of death were TB, and diarrhoeal diseases (South Africa Revenue Services, 1999 p.9). Because of the reduction in African labor, Chinese migrant workers were brought in between 1904-1907. This idea was short-lived as Chinese migrant workers returned home by 1910 due to political shock waves in Britain. The earlier mine strike of 1913, the Afrikaner rebellion of 1914, the protests of Gandhi, and the General strike of 1914 were all due to myriad grievances the mineworkers had to contend with. Between 1914 and 1918, the number of workers in the mining industry stabilized, even though there were ups and downs which were realized during this period. In the depression years, the number of black workers kept rising. On the eve of World War II, workers became dissatisfied and left the industry. They decried poor working conditions. In 1965 an accident occurred in the Coalbrook North Colliery where 435 men perished. In 1974, 74 Malawian mineworkers died in a plane crash with the crew members on board. This led to the imposition of a ban on any Malawian national who intended to work in the South African gold mines. This ban affected a total of 129 000 Malawians (De Kiewiet, 1978 p. 357). The unemployment made men and their families virtually destitute. In a bid to make advances, Africans started forming trade unions like the National Union of Mine Workers that was established in 1983. In 1985, there was decreased profitability of most gold mines, leading to a decrease in the black labor force. This occasioned escalating unemployment indices; rising crime levels, heavy import tariffs, higher taxation, and a fall in foreign investment.

Sociological aspects

South African gold mines have colloquially been referred to as ‘TB factory’ by health activists and the government department in charge of health. The mining magnets have historically been adamant to come up with amicable avenues to avert the HIV/ AIDS and TB menace. Due to poor ventilation in the gold mines and hostels, the chances of mineworkers contracting tuberculosis have been very high. Moreover, silica dust increases one’s chances of contracting TB. Commuting in between the gold mines and house makes it very difficult to diagnose a mine worker with TB. Such conditions also make it very difficult for victims of TB who are on medication to take their drugs regularly. Mineworkers do not enjoy one of the best health care services as the employers do not consistently undertake to regularly screen workers for tuberculosis. TB screening is always inconsistent and unverified. The TB incidence in the South African gold mines has had devastating effects on the neighboring countries like Lesotho which economically depend on South Africa. Fifteen percent of deaths in Lesotho are caused by TB. 40% of TB patients in Lesotho hospitals confess to having once worked in South African gold mines (Wilson, 1972 p.293). Unfortunately, the proprietors of these gold mines have refused to be accountable to the statistics that are currently witnessed in Lesotho. Women have of late taken to mining and their number is slowly overwhelming that of men. However, male dominance has continued to be witnessed fostered by patriarchal organizational culture. This has encouraged discrimination based on gender. The technologies used in the gold mines are designed for men and therefore pose both physical and physiological challenges to women. Women in the gold mine do not get managerial positions but if they get, their white counterparts are more favored. Sexual harassment to the female labor force is a historical affair even as many of them have chosen to keep quiet about it so that they continue being on the payroll of these gold mining companies. Men working in the gold mines have been forced to live in single–sex hostels. Female workers are often forced to wake up as early as 3 am: a risk to their safety, to catch vehicles that commute between their homes and their workplaces. Since 1997, women have been forced to work in underground mines. Moreover, mechanization has led to massive job losses for mine workers.

Economical aspects

Gold mining industries in South Africa are taxed differently from other companies. They are taxed on a two-tier system. The taxation formula is meant to encourage the mining of marginal gold ores. These gold mining companies are subjected to tax tunnel, a form of tax-free revenue portion. This goes against the equity principle of taxation. This taxation system exempts the gold mining companies from paying the actual taxes. This further enriches these companies. However, the blacks who form 70% of the mine’s labor force continue to languish in poverty due to the poor remunerations they get (Statistics Canada, 2004 p.1). It is absurd that only 5% of the blacks hold managerial positions in gold mining industries even though they form the bulk of the labor force. Even as the gold prices continue to appreciate from the US $ 35 in 1950 to the US $ 409.33 in 2004 in the world market, little has changed in the earnings of the workers (Statistics Canada, 2004 p.1).


Black mineworkers have faced numerous challenges in the South African gold mines. Problems faced by these laborers include poor working conditions which make them contract infections like TB and pneumonia. Sexual exploitation which has led to an increased rate of HIV infection has been there but downplayed. There has been a lack of proper means of transportation for the workers and poor housing facilities. Black workers especially women have suffered from gender disparities where patriarchal prejudices have hindered the progress of the female labor force. Promotion into managerial positions has also been determined by racial inclinations.

Reference List

  1. De Kiewiet, C.W. (1978). A History of South Africa, Social and Economic, London: HNP.
  2. De Wet, J.C. and McAllister, P.A. (1985). Betterment planning and its consequences. S.A.J.Sci, 81: 555–558.
  3. South African Revenue Services. (2005). Budget Tax Proposals 2005/6. Pretoria: South African Revenue Services.
  4. South African Revenue Services. (1999). Budget Tax Proposals 1999. Pretoria: South African Revenue Services.
  5. Statistics Canada. (2004). Fixed Assets. Toronto: Statistics Canada.
  6. Wilson, F. (1972). Labour in the South African Gold Mines, 1911–1969. African Studies Series No.6., London: Cambridge Univ. Press. Print.

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