Experts of the Surface and Underground: Cartography and Geological Knowledge in the Territorial Construction of the Witbank Labour District, c. 1899-1930s

Presented by Irvin Sifiso Jiyane

Date: 
Monday, 25 October, 2021 - 16:00

The development of the Witbank coal area has been explained by historians and other scholars in terms of environmental exploitation, its railway connectivity to the Witwatersrand, and the availability of cheap and strictly controlled African labour. The district’s mining industry expanded after the end of the South African War and continued up until the late 1940s. The territorial construction of the region—that is, the ‘proclamation’ of farms into the coal area of the district, has not, however, received any historical analysis. This article draws on cartographic historical perspectives as used by Braun and Carruthers in their respective works to examine the role of nineteenth-century cartography in the growth of the district’s coal mining industry, using the establishment and development of the Witbank Labour District as a case study. Using Friedrich Jeppe’s 1899 map of the Transvaal as a primary source, this article aims to establish a contextual relationship between the contents of the map and the archival sources that concern the incorporation of farms into the labour district of Witbank from 1903 to 1928. By demonstrating that Jeppe’s map served as a reference document in the district’s territorial construction, it argues that the cartographic construction of the district was a process that relied on growing scientific knowledge of its coal geology, which served as the basis for the mobilisation of African labour into farms whose surface environment could be matched with the subterranean environment of the district. In passing, it aims to establish a historiographical conversation between the history of cartography and the interpretative lenses that have framed historical analyses of the district’s development.
  • During the pandemic seminars will be held on-line; for the details of the Zoom meetings, please sign up for email notices at https://wiser.wits.ac.za/mail.
  • Participants must read the paper prior to the seminar.
  • The paper will typically only be available on the Friday preceding the seminar.

  • Click here for the remainder of the seminar schedule for this semester.