Say gold and diamonds and one African country comes
quickly to mind: South Africa. But the African continent's store of
mineral resources is much richer and more broadly dispersed than this
easy association suggests.
"Sub-Saharan Africa," the authors of Short
Changed: Africa and World Trade (Brown and Tiffen 1992) note,
"exports gold and diamonds, but also large quantities of copper,
bauxite, iron ore, uranium, phosphate rock and manganese; smaller
quantitie s of asbestos, beryllium, cadmium, chromite, cobalt,
germanium, lead, lithium, nickel, platinum, tantalite, tin, tungsten,
vanadium, and zinc" (p. 66).
In an article entitled "African Mining: A Light at the
End of the Tunnel" Magnus Ericsson, editor of Raw Materials
Report, underlines the importance of these mineral resources to the
countries of Africa: "Mineral exports contribute between 25 an d 90
percent of annual export earnings of 13 countries: Botswana, Ghana,
Guinea, Liberia, Senegal, Mauritania, Namibia, Niger, Central African
Republic, Sierra Leone, Zaire, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. South Africa is
also heavily dependent on exporting its ore s and metals" (Review
of African Political Economy 91, July 1991, p. 98).
The heavy dependence of these African countries on mineral
exports means that the lives of many of their citizens are directly
affected by the fluctuations in world market prices for tin, copper, and
Third World minerals and mining
For a popular overview of the general state of commodity
dependence in Third World countries we recommend two resources. The
first is the seven-part series of videos produced by Sue Clayton and
Jonathan Curling entitled Commodities (First Run/Icaru s Films,
1986). The second is the 1994 edition of the Third World Atlas
(Thomas 1994), which contains a map on p. 18 that illustrates the extent
to which countries in Africa, Asia, the Pacific, Latin America, and the
Caribbean are linked to the glo bal economy by virtue of their exports
of various commodities, including bauxite, diamonds, and copper.
In Third World Minerals and Global Pricing: A New Theory
(Nwoke 1987) Dr. Chibuzo Nwoke of the Nigerian Institute of
International Affairs narrows the focus from commodities in general to
minerals and mining in the Third World context. He explor es--in a
heavily theoretical and analytical framework--"the issue of the
conflictual relationship between foreign mining firms and Third World
governments in the sharing of the huge benefits derivable from mining
the latter's rich resources." The New R esource Wars: Native and
Environmental Struggles against Multinational Corporations (Gedicks
1993) is focused primarily on resource exploitation in North America,
but chapter 2 offers a readable introduction to many of the political,
social, and econo mic issues related to the mining of natural resources
Raw Materials Report (Stockholm) is a readable
and dependable source of current information on the production and
marketing of minerals and other raw materials. Debates about the pros
and cons of mineral exploitation in Third World countries are regular
features of the attractively designed magazine. The publishers of Raw
Materials Report, Raw Materials Group, compile an annual reference
guide to the major corporate actors in the world mining and refining
industry: Who Owns Who in Mini ng.
Two other corporate reference sources are The Gulliver
File. Mines, People and Land: A Global Battleground (Moody 1992) and
chapter 4 of the Institute on Trade Policy's Wasting the Earth: A
Directory of Multinational Corporate Activiti es (Draffan
Mining in Africa
Mining and mineral extraction issues in Africa are examined
in the following books. Some have region or country case studies.
African Environments and Resources
(Lewis and Berry 1988). Chapter 11: "Minerals, industry, and the
Going for Gold: Men, Mines, and Migration
(Moodie and Ndatshe 1994).
King Solomon's Mines Revisted: Western Interests and the
Burdened History of Southern Africa (Minter 1986).
The Golden Contradiction: A Marxist Theory of Gold. With
Particular Reference to South Africa (Stemmet 1996).
Industrialization, Mineral Resources and Energy in Africa
The Last Empire: De Beers, Diamonds, and the World
Mining in Africa Today: Strategies and Prospects
The Mining Sector in Southern Africa
Short Changed: Africa and World Trade
(Brown and Tiffen 1992).
A study published byDakar-based CODESRIA (Council for the
Development of Economic and Social Research in Africa), Industrialization,
Mineral Resources and Energy in Africa (Khennas 1992), contains
chapter-length case studies of mining and mineral e xtraction in
Morocco, Tanzania, Nigeria, Algeria, Guinea, Senegal, Niger, Liberia,
Policy Choice and Development Performance in Botswana
(Harvey and Lewis 1990). Chapter 6: "Mineral policy and mining
The History of Black Mineworkers in South Africa
Our Precious Metal: African Labour in South Africa's Gold
Industry, 1970-1990 (James 1992);
South Africa Inc.: The Oppenheimer Empire
(Pallister et al. 1987);
Studded with Diamonds and Paved with Gold: Miners, Mining
Companies and Human Rights in Southern Africa (Flynn 1992);
The Political Economy of South Africa (Fine
and Rustomjee 1996), and
Transformation on the South African Gold Mines (Crush
et al. 1992).
The Mining Industry in Tanzania
(Parker 1992); _"Mining and Structural Adjustment: Studies on
Zimbabwe and Tanzania." Research Report, no. 92 (1993), pp.
9-107; "The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth, but Not the Mining
Rights: The Mining Ind ustry and Accumulation in Tanzania," in Liberalised
Development in Tanzania: Studies on Accumulation Processes and Local
Institutions (Gibbon 1995), pp. 37-108.
"Mining and Structural Adjustment: Studies on Zimbabwe
and Tanzania." Research Report, no. 92 (1993), pp. 9-78.
Case study: Rössing Uranium
In 1992 two London-based activist organizations--the
Namibia Support Committee and PARTiZANS--published a blockbuster exposé
of health, safety, and environmental violations at the world's largest
open-pit uranium mine. Located in the desert in western Namibia, the
uranium mine is run by Rössing Uranium, a subsidiary of the U.K. mining
The exposé, entitled Past Exposure: Revealing Health
and Environmental Risks of Rössing Uranium (Dropkin and Clark
1992), used internal company documents, interviews with workers at the Rössing
mine, scientific data, and independent research to level numerous strong
charges against the mining multinational and the British government.
Among the charges:
"Throughout the colonial era [Rössing] broke
international law, defying UN Security Council resolutions, the
International Court of Justice, and a UN decree" (p. 7).
"Dust levels in the Open Pit and Crushers have been
known to reach 20-30 times the standard supposedly applied by Rössing
(for respirable siliceous dust)." (p. 9)
"Workers in the Final Product Recovery area were
exposed to very high levels of radiation in the period up to 1982, and
even now their exposures are significant. Their lifetime risk of fatal
cancer is probably at least 1 in 25 and possibly as high as 1 in 9"
Past Exposure describes the efforts of the
Mineworkers Union of Namibia and of an international network of trade
union and nongovernmental solidarity organizations to reveal the true
state of working and living conditions at the Rössing uran ium mine and
to take steps to ensure that the newly independent government of Namibia
holds Rössing accountable to the "highest standards" the
company claims to respect.
The conflicting data and controversial perspectives
revealed in Past Exposu re offer educators and study groups
plenty of substance for a case study analysis of one large and
influential mining company in Africa.
More up-to-date formulations of the lines of debate
regarding Rössing are found in the periodical Raw Materials Report,
especially volume 9, nos. 3 and 4 (1993).
The Namibia Support Committee no longer exists, but copies
of Past Exposure (and other information on mining in Africa) are
available from PARTiZANS (People Against Rio Tinto Zinc and its
Subsidiaries), 218 Liverpool, London N1 1LE, England.
Born of the Sun
Excerpt from Joseph Diescho's Born of the Sun: A
Namibian Novel (New York:Friendship Press, 1988)
Born in northern Namibia to uneducated peasant parents
Joseph Diescho went on to study law and political science in South
Africa and to become active in movements resisting the apartheid system.
Later, while working for a diamond mine company Diescho h elped found a
workers' union. His novel, Born of the Sun, is a story of a
dispossessed black majority forced to work in the gold and diamond mines
of Namibia and South Africa.
"For four months Muronga has been working in the mine.
He has adjusted to the routine and is quite content with his new
identity as a mine worker. He has very few opportunities to leave the
compound and little free time, so the compound has become almo st his
"At first, he was eager to learn everything he
possibly could about his work and his new environment. Because of his
youthful physique and good health, Muronga was assigned to work as a
lowly shoveler. After the machineboys have blasted the rock s off
the working face at the new end of the tunnel with dynamite, the
choppers break up the larger chunks, and the line of shovelers pass the
gravel shovelful by shovelful back to the loaders at the trolley car on
its narrow iron rails. To Muronga and al l of the other men, the work
soon becomes routine, so much so that one day Muronga decides to ask his
supervisor if there are any other jobs he can learn.
"'Chiefboss,' Muronga exclaims, careful not to break
the rhythm of his shoveling. 'Everything you have taught me here I know
how to do. I would like to learn something new--like learning to drive
the trolley car.'
"'What? Are you crazy?' the short fat white supervisor
shouts. 'You are a shoveler! That's all you were meant to do. You cannot
drive that thing, ever. It's dangerous, so only boys who can read and
write a little bit can drive it. Not you...it's not fo r baboons like
you. Now get to work! I am busy!' The supervisor shoves Muronga aside
with the butt of his flashlight and stalks self-importantly down the
tunnel toward the face.
"Taken aback, Muronga swallows hard as the men begin
to sing, 'Tshotsholoza, tshotsholoza,' the chant they
often sing to help them keep a rhythm and feel less tired and more
united in the battle with the rocks."