On 15 and 16 May 2023, the Future Africa Campus of the University of Pretoria will be the scene of the first AFREXTRACT conference.
In places such as the Witwatersrand, the Zambian Copperbelt, and the Niger Delta mining and oil drilling have long histories. The discovery of gold in 1886 spurred the foundation of Johannesburg, giving the metropolis its isiZulu name eGoli, ‘place of gold’. In the decades since, gold mining transformed environments, as Nobel prize winning author Nadine Gordimer captures: ‘the Witwatersrand created its own landscape out of waste and water brought from underground in the process of deep-level mining’ (Goldblatt and Gordimer, On the Mines , 2012).
Anthropologists, historians, geographers, and political scientists have produced excellent studies of resource extraction in African localities, focusing on issues of labour, social change, politics, and much more (e.g. van Onselen, 1982; Adunbi, 2015; Larmer, 2021). Remarkably, though, the environmental changes accompanying mining and oil drilling have received relatively little attention. This conference centres on how people have learned to live with the environmental transformations induced by resource extraction across Africa. How did those living around mines and oil wells make sense of suffocating air pollution and the high prevalence of cancers? Why did some protest through NGOs, while others responded by shifting their tomato garden to avoid toxic emissions?
This is the first conference organised by the European Research Council funded project AFREXTRACT, ‘Environmental Histories of Resource Extraction in Africa: Understanding Cultural and Political Responses to Environmental Transformation’. We are bringing together interdisciplinary scholars, artists, and activists interested in questions of environmental change, lived experiences, cultural expressions, and political responses in African localities of resource extraction.
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