P118 – Social and Political Mobilisation in Mining Communities in Southern and Central Africa
9 July, 09:00 – 10:30

Larmer Miles / University of Oxford
Laterza Vito / University of Pretoria


Mining communities have been an important space of mobilisation in Africa. However, social scientists, focussed on male-dominated workplaces and labour unions and parties, arguably neglected quotidian forms of activism. After decades of decline, mining is again driving economic growth, but in a new context. Investors reject social reproduction costs once borne by ‘colonial’ mining companies, and provide fewer jobs. Neoliberal policies make it harder for states and communities to achieve social gains.
In this context, sections of mining communities – e.g. unemployed youth, casualised mineworkers, and women – mobilise around aspirations and grievances, but are often disengaged from once dominant institutions: large-scale mine companies, state institutions and recognised trade unions. Changing relationships and divisions – between genders and generations; artisanal and industrial workers; autochthons, migrants and racial and ethnic groups; and communities, states and companies – affect the nature of political and social movements.
The panel will examine if new forms of mobilisation are emerging in mining communities in southern and central Africa. Evidence exists of wildcat strikes and protests, but also the reconfiguration of social movements around community welfare, union fragmentation and populist politics linked to resource nationalism. The panel also seeks to explore academic representation of mining politics and society and to assess how ‘new’ these mobilisations are.

As comunidades mineiras têm sido um espaço importante de mobilização em África. A mineração é de novo o motor de crescimento económico após décadas de declínio. Investidores assumem cada vez menos custos de reprodução social que no passado eram suportados por empresas “coloniais” de mineração, e também oferecem menos oportunidades de emprego. Neste contexto, secções de comunidades mineiras – por exemplo, jovens desempregados, mineiros sazonais e mulheres – mobilizam-se em torno de aspirações e reivindicações, mas muitas vezes eles estão desligados das instituições dominantes tais como empresas de mineração em grande escala, instituições do estado e sindicatos. Mudanças nas relações e divisões – entre géneros e gerações; trabalhadores artesanais e industriais; autóctones, migrantes, grupos raciais e étnicos; comunidades, estados e empresas – têm estado a afectar a natureza dos movimentos políticos e sociais.
Há evidência de um novo tipo de greves e protestos, e da reconfiguração dos movimentos sociais em torno do bem-estar da comunidade, fragmentação sindical e políticas populistas ligadas ao nacionalismo de recursos. O painel examinará até que ponto estão a surgir novas formas de mobilização nas comunidades mineiras da África Austral e Central bem como avaliar a sua relevância.

Paper 1

Money Duncan / University of Oxford

“Even if we are the highest paid workers in the world, the fact remains we are entitled to fight”: White mineworkers on the Zambian Copperbelt, 1930-1950

The Copperbelt has generally been understood in terms of its place in the ‘national’ story of Zambia. This paper argues that it is better understood by tracing how the Copperbelt was linked to other mining regions around the world – in Britain, the US, Australia and South Africa – through flows of people, capital and ideas.
Wildcat strikes and community political mobilisation in Zambia’s mining communities have a long history, especially among white mineworkers. Along with their industrial skills, the thousands of highly mobile and transient white mineworkers attracted to the Zambian Copperbelt in this period brought with them the traditions of the international labour movement. Coupled with knowledge about working conditions and developments in other mining centres around the world, these mineworkers successfully contested the control of the mining companies over the workplace and the mining towns.
This paper seeks to place developments in antagonistic industrial relations and the provision of increasingly lavish community welfare on the Copperbelt within a wider international context. Both the mining companies and their white workforce framed and pursued their aims with explicit reference to mining centres globally. In particular, the white workforce combined disinterest towards the larger African workforce with a keen awareness of the condition of British, American and Australian miners.

Paper 2

Rubbers Benjamin / University of Liège

Protests against the reform of the mining sector. The dynamics of the field of labour politics in Katanga, D.R. Congo

In the early 2000s, the Congolese government was forced, under the pressure from the World Bank, to restructure the Gécamines. The main assets of this public mining company were sold to private investors, and its own staff downsized from 24,000 to 14,000 workers. Since then, Katanga province witnessed an influx of foreign companies, which caused a huge increase of mining investments. This ‘great transformation’ of the mining sector has given rise to various forms of protest actions, political tensions, and campaigns to reform the governance of the mining industry. Most expressions of popular discontent in Katanga, however, were spontaneous and short-lived. Based on long term research, this paper aims to reflect on the conditions that allowed for a more organized and long-lasting political mobilisation to emerge: the struggle that an action group led during ten years to demand more adequate compensation for the 10, 000 workers made redundant from Gécamines in 2003-2004. To understand the strategy of this action group, it will be compared to those developed by trade unions in the course of the same period. The aim of this analysis is to study the various reactions to the reform of the mining sector together, as moves within one same field of action – the field of labour politics, which is worked by distinctive constraints, cleavages, and logics since the colonial period.

Paper 3

Capps Gavin / University of the Witwatersrand

Communities Divided: The Class Contradictions of “Possessive Collectivism” on South Africa’s Rural Platinum Belt

This paper argues that rural mining communities are neither static nor homogenous, but should be conceived as dynamic collectivities that are both differentiated and actively constructed as a way of advancing or defending claims on landed resources. Based on a study of three tribal authority areas on the Rustenburg platinum belt, it shows how intensifying land struggles are mediated though conflicts over group boundaries and identities, and how this in turn is articulating a potentially new yet contradictory rural class politics. In a context where chiefly authorities are becoming major shareholders in local mining operations, the key issue is whether the ‘tribe’ should be the only legitimate land-holding unit, or if collective ownership of mineralised land should reside in smaller socio-political groups (claiming descent from the original buyers) and who should represent their corporate interests. This has generated what may, in a play on Macpherson, be termed rival ‘possessive collectivisms’ that draw legitimacy from competing versions of history and are now fought out through the law. It concludes that while these small-group struggles against the emergent mine-chief nexus are a source of a potentially progressive politics, the attempt to establish property rights through more exclusionary group definitions may itself be an element of rural class formation (cf. Peters) that could act as a divisive force against those labelled outsiders, not least migrant mineworkers.

Paper 4

de Alencastro Mathias / University of Oxford

Why diamond companies, and not the state, are the target of social and political mobilisation in Lunda Norte, Angola

This paper seeks to understand the reasons why, and the ways in which, social and popular mobilisation in Lunda Norte is organized around corporate governance. By the time the civil war ended in 2002, the Angolan elite and the populace both shared the assumption that only diamond companies could effectively govern Lunda Norte. The Angolan government, on the one hand, while engaging in a massive project of reconstruction via state resources across the rest of the country, continued to discharge much of its regulatory power to diamond companies in Lunda Norte. The population, on the other hand, focused its energies on achieving ‘better’ – which in many ways meant more, not less – corporate governance from mining companies.

This is because the population of Lunda Norte shares a rose-tinted, factually dubious collective memory of an idealised ‘golden age’ under DIAMANG, the all-powerful colonial company that continued to operate well into the postcolonial period, and believes that present-day diamond companies could and should deliver more and better healthcare, education, and infrastructure than the distant Luanda state. While it acknowledges that a form of ‘resistance from below’ against the status quo existed and continues to exist in the Lundas, this paper explains why popular contestation continues to take place mostly in the form of claims-making within the colonial-old boundaries of the diamond sector’s private indirect government.

Paper 5

Mususa Patience / University of Cape Town

“We were there before the mines”: rural struggles and mining investment in North Western Province, Zambia

Mine investments in the new Copperbelt, North Western Province of Zambia, are posing a major threat to the livelihoods of its rural dwellers. In the Musele chiefdom, in the district of Solwezi, First Quantum is developing its Trident Mines, a greenfield site. The chiefdom’s residents have been involved in a dispute with the state and the mining company over several issues, including contestations around the land acquisition process for mining and surface rights. Underlying the dispute is the fear that mining will bring no significant benefits to the indigenous residents of the area, while damaging the environment and radically altering the local political ecology. Mining revenue collection is nationally centralised and communities affected by mining have little say on how it is spent. The paper describes social and political processes of mobilisation around these issues drawing on the case of the formation of the Musele Nkisu Taskforce, a rural community advocacy group. The author was directly involved in the formation of the taskforce. The main focus is on the micro-politics of community–mining relations, in particular the constellation of factional interests that emerged in the interactions among community, mining company, state and NGOs.

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