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A critical evaluation of local level responses to mine closure in the Northwestern KwaZulu-Natal coal belt region, South Africa

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  • G Geography (General)
  • Tn Mining Engineering. Metallurgy
  • Economics
  • Political Science


The de-industrialisation process that was a common feature of North America and Western Europe in the 1970s, through into the 1980s has become an observable feature in African countries and South Africa in particular in the last two decades. Globally, hard hit areas include those associated with the early Industrial Revolution characterised by mass production and the agglomeration of iron and steel, coal and textile industries. General changes in the global market, especially the falling demand for extractive heavy minerals like coal and gold have also affected many countries region and localities. In the case of South Mrica, the previous high economic dependence on mined minerals like coal and gold has resulted in many once prosperous mining regions of the country being reduced to a shadow of their former selves. The worst affected areas in South Mrica are those of the Klerksdorp Goldfields in the North West Province and Free State Goldfields, with the latter alone losing 100,000 jobs during the 1990s. This trend has also been acute in the coal-mining industry of the KwaZulu-Natal province since the late 1970s. The firms that had grown in the shadow of the major mining company supplyipg machinery, or who processed the semi-manufactured product are also severely affected by the c~osing down and restructuring in the mining and iron industries. These industries have often been forced to close down because of a break in the vital connections they developed with these mining industries. Such localised economic crisis has encouraged the universal trend towards the devolution of developmental responsibilities to the local governments and other local stakeholders to - empower them to respond to these changes. This study investigated the local economic initiatives which have been undertaken in the three municipalities of north-western KwaZulu Natal i.e. Utrecht, Dundee and Dannhauser to respond to the closures which have taken place in the mining industry of this region, which used to be among the most prosperous coal mining regions of South Africa. Using their new developmental mandate the local governments, in partnership with the communities and other external interveners have tried to respond to these localised economic crisis and also indirectly to the general poverty and underdevelopment, which characterises this region of KwaZulu-Natal. The effects of apartheid policies, and previous discriminatory rural development policies in, particular, and the Regional Industrial Development policy, which was intensively applied in the 1980s by the pre-1994 government regime, have further compounded the magnitude of the challenge. The lack capacity of capacity in some municipalities has constrained successful implementation of Local Economic Development has led to some communities acting alone to face their situation with or without external intervention.

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