Illegal gold mining in Johannesburg, South Africa has exacerbated lawlessness and collapsing infrastructure in the country’s biggest city, according to The Financial Times. The “Zama-zamas,” or illegal miners, have risked causing explosions, damaged roads and created sinkholes as they seek gold beneath city streets. Johannesburg is the industrial heart of South Africa, with big banks and advanced data centres. However, the city’s municipal agencies are struggling with financial crises and political turmoil. Johannesburg’s decay will be a significant factor in the forthcoming national elections and the African National Congress is at risk of losing its governing majority.
The scale of the decay is a reflection of a national malaise that has seen South Africa struggle to keep pace with its population growth. The decay has also crossed post-apartheid urban divides and breached the wealthy suburbs in Johannesburg’s north, which are experiencing water shortages and sewage failures. Johannesburg was the site of the discovery of gold in 1886, which helped form one of the continent’s greatest cities. Cape Town, the country’s second-largest city, is attracting semigrants who can afford to move, with the city’s infrastructure seen as more reliable.
Those who have stayed are increasingly relying on private operators to replace municipal services. Even simple roadworks remain unfinished by contractors, resulting in the city being full of “craters”. Major companies have had to install back-up generators to survive rolling blackouts imposed by the Eskom power monopoly. More than this, the city which is an important transport conduit and home to its history from the Victorian gold rush to the rise of democracy, requires renovation to its “heart” in order to fix its numerous problems.
The ANC is aiming to regain Johannesburg but is unlikely to win nationally without victory in Gauteng, the most populous province in South Africa, which contains Johannesburg. Meanwhile, thieves act with impunity, cutting down traffic-light poles with angle grinders to sell them for scrap. Johannesburg’s civic degradation has created a dangerous city for its residents as the decay slowly spreads north.