Story

South Africa's Toxic Legacy

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Johannesburg

An open pit mine worked by Central Rand Gold SA (Proprietary) Ltd sits unremediated in Johannesburg. Image by Mark Olalde. South Africa, 2016.

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mine warning

A sign and derelict wooden fence mark a mine pit in Krugersdorp, near Johannesburg. Image by Mark Olalde. South Africa, 2016.

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retrenched miners

Two miners who lost their jobs in a shrinking industry in Welkom, Free State, suffer from health issues they claim were caused by the mines. Image by Mark Olalde. South Africa, 2016.

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Soccer City

A symbol of Johannesburg, Soccer City played host to the 2010 World Cup and is bordered by piles of mine waste. Image by Mark Olalde. South Africa, 2016.

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coal pile

Only meters from a settlement, a coal pile feeds a power plant in Mpumalanga. Image by Mark Olalde. South Africa, 2016.

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protester

An activist flew from Colombia to protest at the head office of a South African gold mining company attempting to open three mines in Colombia. Image by Mark Olalde. South Africa, 2016.

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zama zamas

Police arrest illegal miners known as "zama zamas" at George Harrison Park, the site where gold was first discovered in modern-day Johannesburg. Image by Mark Olalde. South Africa, 2016.

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Xolobeni

Residents walk between villages in Xolobeni, Eastern Cape, where an anti-mining activist was murdered, potentially for his stance against a proposed titanium mine. Image by Mark Olalde. South Africa, 2016.

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Eskom protest

South African women protest for clean energy in front of the utility company Eskom's offices in Johannesburg. Image by Mark Olalde. South Africa, 2016.

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sinkhole

Sinkholes in Carletonville, Gauteng, form over voids created by pumping out underground water for gold mining. Image by Mark Olalde. South Africa, 2016.

For hundreds of years, mining built and strengthened South Africa’s economy. Now, many important resources are either running out or becoming less relevant in a modern world, and the country is struggling to cope with the legacy impacts of this once-proud industry.

The consequences of large-scale mining range from unemployment to vast environmental degradation and various health issues. The country attracted and continues to attract thousands of migrants looking for work in the mines. As the industry sheds jobs annually, these migrants become displaced and often turn to dangerous, illegal mining. The environment suffers from sinkholes, dust fallout from massive waste piles, acid mine drainage, and underground combustion. Former miners and poor communities adjacent to mining operations complain of respiratory issues, rashes, and more, but they have found limited success in litigation.

To cope with many of these problems, South Africa has progressive legislation, aimed at providing money for environment rehabilitation and compelling companies to bring prosperity to affected communities. More often than not, communities and activists must fight extended battles to realize their guaranteed rights.

These photos and this investigation dig into South Africa’s mining culture, chronicling communities’ struggles, the money involved in mining, and the industry’s inner workings.

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