"Beyond the compound": the making and unmaking of migrants' social world on South Africa's platinum mines

This study is about migrant mineworkers who still make up a significant part of the labor force on the platinum mines of South Africa. It focuses on male isiXhosa speakers most of whom are originally from the rural districts of the country’s Eastern Cape province and stayed in the informal settlements sprouting around mining operations in the small town of Marikana. It is thus a micro-level description and analysis of collective sociocultural practices and organization of everyday social life among migrant mineworkers. Data is drawn from ethnographic participant observation in and around the informal settlements, but further evidence came from interactions with the migrants’ networks of kin, friends and acquaintances, both on the platinum belt and in rural Eastern Cape. Inspired by Durkheimian approaches, this study reveals the “making” and “unmaking” of a particular social world where forms of collective consciousness and actions that are based less within the confines of a “proletarian politics” or the shop floor, but in everyday social interactions and the contingency of “making do”. There is, therefore, a collective awareness of circumstantial uncertainty/insecurity (e.g., shrinking wage-work opportunities, life in informal settlements with poor structural quality of shelters, insecure tenure, ethnic tensions etc.). Contrary to the universalization narratives of “proletarian” consciousness and action, or the post-apartheid immiseration and resignation of working people, the study argues, rather, that the uncertainty creates opportunities for political mobilization and collective actions that are linked, but not confined to the politics of the workplace. The study should be taken as a starting point for analyzing collective worker consciousness and actions amidst widespread informalization and casualization of wage-work in post-apartheid South Africa. The awareness of uncertainty and consciousness can be taken up and expanded as a lived reality, social imagination and a basis for collective worker actions.

Publication infos:
Geneva, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, 2018
Publication year:
Number of pages:
IV, 225 p.
PhD Director(s):
Directeur de thèse : Professeur Filipe Calvão
Call number:
HEITH 1264

Note: The file is under embargo until: 2021-05-31

 Record created 2018-06-11, last modified 2019-08-06

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