Apartheid's Anthropocene: The (Under)mining of a South African Company Town  

Presented by Stephen Sparks

Date: 
Monday, 16 September, 2019 - 15:00

My concern here is a small, but important slice of the South African Anthropocene: the undermining, by coal mining, of the sub-surface of Sasolburg, the South African company town set up in the 1950s by the apartheid state. I suggest that the story of the undermining of Sasolburg quite fundamentally changes the way we think about the shaping of South Africa’s apartheid and post-apartheid urban geography. Well-worn historical themes such as the development of the Verwoerdian white supremacist spatial fix and the ratio of single male migrants to families in Sasolburg’s township, Zamdela, are shown to have been shaped by hollowed ground in unexpected ways. The second section of the paper focuses on the paradoxical role of the minerals-energy research complex (the Chamber of Mines, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and the engineering faculties of the major local universities) and, in particular, the field of subsidence engineering, in producing and mitigating the mining void crisis in Sasolburg. I conclude with some reflections on the perils of 'anthropocene' as metanarrative.

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