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Legacy of Apartheid Persists: Mining Debris Continues to Harm Black Communities in South Africa

by Anna

Stanford historian Gabrielle Hecht’s latest book, “Residual Governance: How South Africa Foretells Planetary Futures,” sheds light on the enduring impact of apartheid on South Africa’s marginalized communities. Despite the official end of apartheid in the early 1990s, the consequences persist, notably in the environmental aftermath of extensive mining activities. Hecht reveals how satellite imagery captures the vast waste generated by mining, symbolizing the racial disparities that persist. Black South Africans, living on the economic fringes, bear the brunt of health consequences from hazardous waste, illustrating the dark legacy of apartheid.

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Mining debris, such as tailings, poses severe health risks to those residing nearby. Hecht’s book emphasizes the impact on impoverished Black South Africans who, out of necessity, engage in perilous activities like scavenging abandoned mine shafts or using toxic debris for makeshift shelter construction. The racial divide is evident in the geographical placement of communities, where toxic dust blows towards Black residents, reinforcing historical discriminatory policies.

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Hecht argues that waste is an active, mutating force with far-reaching consequences, challenging the notion of “out of sight, out of mind.” She highlights how waste, from toxic dust to abandoned mine sites, perpetuates racial disparities and jeopardizes the health of vulnerable communities.

The book introduces the concept of “residual governance,” characterized by minimalist governance tactics that simplify, ignore, and delay addressing the environmental and health hazards resulting from mining activities. Hecht advocates for a shift towards comprehensive governance that recognizes and respects the full personhood of affected communities.

While focusing on South Africa, Hecht draws attention to broader issues relevant to the global mining industry. As the world embraces sustainable practices, Hecht’s research also examines the environmental impact of extracting minerals essential for green technologies. The book encourages readers to be mindful consumers, acknowledging the interconnectedness of environmental issues on a global scale.

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