Mine workers and the demise of compounds in South Africa were examined in research completed by the University of Pretoria’s Professor Andries Bezuidenhout who outlined his findings at a forum hosted by the School of Social Sciences at UKZN recently.

Bezuidenhout together with colleagues conducted extensive research both in the mining industry and with the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).  His talk also touched on some of the issues involved in the Marikana mine tragedy.

He explained that at the core of colonial and apartheid social engineering was a spatial strategy based on institutions and infrastructure linking together rural homesteads and villages, and mining centres and towns.

‘In the case of the mining industry, single-sex compounds were set up as the foundation of the infrastructure of control over black labour. In our research endeavours we examined how various forms of control operated. We located our contribution within the labour geography literature,’ he said.

Bezuidenhout argued that it was not only state institutions and major corporations that shaped landscapes of control. In this regard he highlighted the centrality of workers agencies, specifically the way in which the National Union of Mineworkers “captured” the compounds and subverted the logic of employer control.

‘The fragmentation of the spatial order of apartheid and the introduction of choice leads to new forms of exclusion and the erosion of solidarities of old. Forms of agency that are effective in an historical moment may recede, even erode, on a changed landscape even if it is one that worker agencies helped bring about. This is the paradox of worker agency under capitalism.’

‘However, the union’s successes as well as the advent of democracy have resulted in profound changes, thus presenting the union with new challenges.’

author email : mungroo@ukzn.ac.za