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Gold mining in South Africa hit the news last week, when the high court gave the go ahead for up to half a million miners to seek damages from gold companies due to silicosis and tuberculosis contracted through their work. The decision brings hope to thousands of mining families who have fought long and hard to win compensation after seeing their health, livelihoods and lives destroyed by working in one of South Africa’s most controversial industries.
The mining sector in South Africa and across Sub-Saharan Africa more broadly is frequently the subject of fierce debate, touching as it does upon colonial legacies, social justice, human rights and government and business accountability to local people. In this audio interview, Horman Chitonge, an economist at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, discusses the responsibilities multinationals and governments have to workers, to the local communities whose land they occupy and to the land they degrade.
Chitonge talks about the gaping chasm between salaries and living conditions for miners working for the same multinational but in different countries. And he reflects on broader economic concerns about states relying too heavily on single commodities, from oil in Nigeria to copper in Zambia — a dependence that is a hangover from colonial times but one continuing, and even deepening, today. The time has come for African governments to follow through on their pronouncements of the 1960s by diversifying their economies and paying more attention to non-traditional export sectors like agriculture, tourism and industry, he says.
The interview was recorded on 6 May at the University of Cape Town at the annual meeting of the Australia-Africa Universities Network.