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Hibist Kassa


Hibist Kassa is a Senior Researcher at the Institute for African Alternatives. She is also a Research Fellow at the Centre for African Studies and Chair in Land and Democracy in South Africa. Previously, she was a Postdoctoral Research Fellow with the Southern Centre for Inequality Studies. In 2019, she was awarded her doctorate in Sociology from the University of Johannesburg. Her doctoral dissertation is being turned into a monograph for Brill in its New Scholarship in Political Economy series edited by Prof David Fasenfest, SOAS University of London and Prof Alfredo Saad Filho, Kings College London. Her work covers the themes of Land, the State, Social Reproduction, Citizenship, Evolution of Local Capital and Political Economy of Natural Resources.


The political economy of artisanal mining in Ghana and South Africa

This article examines the political economy of Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining (ASM), which is conceptualised as petty commodity production (PCP) and petty capitalism (PC). It draws on a doctoral dissertation which was a comparison of PCP and PC in ASM in Ghana and South Africa. ASM is a broad category of mining activities which includes artisanal miners who use rudimentary tools on one end of the spectrum, while junior miners are also included on the other end as larger scale players in mining. PCP is assumed as depending on self- exploitation, limited mechanisation and low accumulation levels while Petty Capitalism (PC) develops from PCP but is restrained in its further evolution. Classical Marxism provides the theoretical tools to analyse capital, but as Mafeje (1981) highlights this does not account for the persistence of pre-capitalist forms of production, and their bearing on social formations. Moyo, Jha and Yeros (2013) emphasise, this focus on capital underlies a bias towards ‘depeasantisation’ (Bryceson & Jønsson, 2013) and Eurocentric focus on industrialisation (Bernstein, 2003: 198). As a result, heterogeneous economies in the periphery are wrongly treated as an anomaly. The De Soto thesis which assumes the conversion of communal land from ‘dead assets’ to productive assets has opened up policy space for renewed land dispossession. The increasing concentration and marketisation of land (Manji, 2006) leading to ‘deagrarianisation’ largely by corporate led landgrabs and alternative livelihood strategies such as non-formal ASM (Bryceson & Jønsson, 2013; Lahiri-Dutt, 2018, pp. 1–22). This aims to negate customary land tenure arrangements which are presumed to undermine access to credit (Manji, 2006: 6). It is necessary to situate this in a broader analysis of agrarian crisis and examine the manner that the effects of structural adjustment and economic reform programs (Moyo, Jha & Yeros, 2013), combined with financialsation and commodity price hikes, led to these outcomes. Importantly, Mafeje (2003: 15-16) emphasises the ‘liberating’ possibilities of accumulation from below in specific ‘socioeconomic conditions’ that can be unleashed by proletarianization. By drawing on empirical evidence from South Africa, this article makes the case that the excluded from the formal economy while pursuing livelihood strategies as petty commodity producers and petty capitalists represent a counter movement within Capital. The exclusion of smallholder producers from mining concessions by LSMs in South Africa, immediately raises the demand for redistribution and legitimation of operations centres on this (Mafeje, 2003:16; Manji, 2006:46). Criminalization persists in both cases, but is more entrenched in South Africa, even though there are attempts to explore regulation on a pilot basis (Kassa, 2018). While the embeddedness of ASM in global value chains sharply focuses on super-exploitation, and precarious conditions that have bearing on social reproduction, it is also a dynamic space for ‘accumulation from below’. Beyond the extraction of surplus value, the informal arrangements to address immediate social needs, aim for social mobility, value addition through beneficiation and provision of extension services by the State. These counter hegemonic movements erode the dominance of large-scale mining operations, bringing a significant change through accumulation from below.

Affiliation: Institute for African Alternatives and Centre for African Studies, University of Cape Town