Dissertation Abstracts

Sanitised Spaces: The Spatial Orders of Post-apartheid Mines in South Africa

Author: John Mashayamombe, jsmashaya@gmail.com
Department: Sociology
University: University of Pretoria, South Africa
Supervisor: Andries Bezuidenhout
Year of completion: 2018
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: Sanitised workplace order , Space , Mining , Housing
Areas of Research: Work , Economy and Society , Housing and Built Environment


This comparative study investigates how new mines in the democratic South Africa monitor and control labour in the workplace, how labour responds and relations between mining communities and mining companies. The study is inspired by the fact that labour studies scholarship in South Africa has focused on mines established during colonial and apartheid periods. Research on the old gold, platinum and some coal mines has been on labour disputes often expressed through protected and unprotected strikes. However, not much has been undertaken on new mines established in the democratic era in terms of workplace organisation, workplace and community relations, management mechanisms to monitor and control labour, and labour’s spatial and political praxis. I utilised labour geography’s concepts of space, place and belonging together with the extended case method to examine the issues mentioned above. This study found out that Kolomela (iron ore) and Zibulo (colliery) mines, located in the Northern Cape and Mpumalanga provinces respectively, have come up different innovative ways of organising work and workplace relations in comparison to older mines. Sanitised workplace order captures this phenomenon and describes the consistent application of rules and regulations and innovations that are negotiated and re-negotiated, contested and manipulated by capital and labour in order to control space to fulfill their respective interests in the workplace. Sanitised workplace order is characterised by deliberate recruitment of young, educated and diverse workforce, introduction of new technologies and automation in pursuit of smart mines, inculcation of company’s operating model onto the entry level workforce, provision of transport and housing arrangements including allowances as well as health and safety innovations. It is in this context that capital and labour contest with each for the control of this space and the ability to do so demonstrates power. Furthermore, Kolomela mine has also developed a housing strategy conceptualised as sanitised residential space, where the mine has built houses for its mineworkers to rent while it retains ownership. This has resulted in conflict as workers refuse to settle utility bills while the community feels like the mine excludes them favouring ‘non-locals’ in terms of job and business opportunities and access to housing. Due to sanitisation of space, questions of belonging have become central in the determination of who is included and excluded to access resources and opportunities in Postmasburg by those who hold power in the community. On the other hand, findings show that Zibulo follows a different strategy in which it does provide favourable housing and travel allowances that seem to be attractive to the mineworkers and side-step conflict with local communities. In light of the above, the comparative study depicts a significant shift from past workplace practices at old mines; while new interventions have yielded contradictions as depicted by the sanitised residential space; provision of housing and transport allowance as well as the sanitised workplace order. These different spatial orders seem to break with past traditions of workplace un-governability since both operations seem to have created some form of workplace stability.