The Country Part I: More Information

I didn't feel like including everything in the original post lest it bore you, so I thought I'd put the extra details here in case you were interested.

Our surveys revealed fascinating information. While the farmers we surveyed were overwhelmingly against coal mining, the dissension of two farmers, who had given the coal mining company permission to prospect on their land, had sparked outrage in the normally tight farming community. Unfortunately the two farmers refused to be interviewed.

For the most part, the farmworkers were also against coal mining in the area, recognizing the adverse effects it would have on the environment. While many of them mentioned the greater employment possibilities, they declared the long-term health of the land to be their priority. A few exceptions existed, as always do, and I found that many of the younger people I interviewed wanted the mining jobs so that they could make money and move to the city.

Many mentioned education as the major factor in their opinions about mining. Mining companies built schools and paved roads, allowing an avenue into education for the poorest residents. A municipal councilor complained that they had the funds to build schools, but not the land, and the farmers refused to give them land on which to build. This, he said, was to ensure a steady supply of cheap labor for their farms. One twenty year-old I interviewed who was working for a lumber company said he wanted to study math and physics in college, but didn't have the money.

As we made our way around the hills day after day, sometimes spending the majority of our time on the road, the history of the area revealed itself to us.

 A coal dump site was our first surprise. Mounds of ten to fifteen feet of coal ash left behind by the previous mining company shocked us into the harsh realities of rural life. The company had left this behind years ago and repeated attempts to get the municipal government to do something had gone unheeded. Most depressing of all, a small settlement of inhabited shacks lay just a few dozen yards away (visible in the left picture). We later saw another dump site just feet from a primary school.

 South Africans have the constitutional right to a clean environment. Yet, unfortunately, the polluted water and coal ash  had reduced the water supply, poisoned much of the cattle, and had almost certainly had negative health effects on the people in the area. 

Later, we visited a small settlement to talk to people who remembered the coal mines in the 1980s. We spoke with two older women who remembered hearing explosions, and talked about how the river where they had previously retrieved their water began to turn their skin white (apparently an effect created when coal ash and water mix). They were funny, sassy old women who joked about their relative powerlessness against coal mining.

We ended our interviews with a visit to a restitution farm. During apartheid, Black farmers had their land taken from them and given to White farmers. Now, in an effort to encourage Black workers to return to farming, the current government has set up a system of "willing buyer, willing seller" (in contrast with Zimbabwe) where White farmers can choose to sell their farmland to the government and the government will then give it to Black people who can prove that their land was taken during apartheid. Restitution farms are controversial because many of the Black farmers have a difficult time returning to farming. Non-profits and NGOs, such as the WWF, have been working to help them.

They had a lot of dogs

Trying some homemade beer with the farmers, a WWF rep, my boss, and my co-intern. Our economist took this picture.

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