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An Open Wound: From the Big Hole to the Marikana Massacre

From Planet 213

Ismail Lagardien on a political economy of human misery within South African mining, from the colonial period to the present

A very large majority of the accidents in the mine is due either to the carelessness or the stupidity of the natives themselves ... A large percentage of the deaths in the compound had been caused by receiving natives who come in companies from countries north of the Transvaal, many of whom are so starved and emaciated as to be beyond help.
Gardner Williams, General Manager of De Beers Consolidated Mines Limited, on the benefits of housing mining workers in enclosed compounds in Kimberley. Cape Parliamentary Papers. Reports of Inspectors of Diamond Mines G22 1889.

Late in the southern winter of 2013, I visited the Big Hole of Kimberley, once the greatest source of diamonds in the world, in South Africa’s arid Northern Cape Province. The Big Hole, the place in South Africa where diamonds were first discovered in 1871, is the largest open pit mine dug by human hands in the world. It sits, today, on the plains of the Northern Cape Province like a large open wound that will not heal. It is a life-long reminder, such as the ones that Belgium’s King Leopold left on his victims through amputations, so they might never forget just who was in control… The comparison may seem spurious, but the discovery and mining of diamonds, gold and other precious metals are umbilically linked to colonial domination, abuse and exploitation in South Africa. Indeed, within a few years of the discovery of diamonds at Kimberley, the arch colonialist, Cecil John Rhodes, controlled the entire means of production and distribution of the precious stone. By 1889 Rhodes presided over the De Beers Consolidated Mines Company, which within a decade accounted for approximately 90% of world production. Their domination of precious metals mining as a whole continues into the 21st century.



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