Development of human settlements and mining areas: 1956-2013

The Witwatersrand gold mining belt traverses the middle of the Gauteng province from east to west. It was one of the first large-scale mining areas in South Africa and, with over a century of extraction of gold and other commodities, it has grown to be one of the biggest – although today large parts are mined out and abandoned. The contribution of this mining has been considerable. It has catalysed a host of supporting industries and infrastructure development across the country, benefitted the state through enormous tax revenues, and provided countless jobs (Cowey, 1994). However, it has also had negative effects. The needs of the mining industry for cheap labour intersected with a set of political beliefs in support of apartheid, resulting in a legacy of acute race-, space- and class-based inequalities still carried today. Decades of externalising the environmental costs of mining have also left scars on the landscape in the form of unrehabilitated mine dumps, sterilised land and polluted groundwater. These negative impacts raise the issue of the spatial relationship between mining areas and human settlements in the GCR, and how this has changed over time.

This map of the month presents two remarkable comparisons showing the coincidental expansion of both the built environment and mining activity over half a century. First, it provides a never before seen overlay of residential land cover in 1956 and 2013. The 2013 residential land cover data, light grey in the map, is a rendering of current 30 metre resolution satellite imagery from GeoTerraImage (GTI). The 1956 picture, dark grey in the map, was digitised from high resolution scans of a map in a 1957 ‘Planning Survey of the Southern Transvaal’ (Fair et al. 1957) and georeferenced to align with the more recent data on residential land cover in a GIS. Second, the map compares the expanse of mining activity in 1956, drawn from the same source, with a layer of current mining concessions in Gauteng obtained from the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR).

Map-of-the-Month_Web - mining and settlements

In 1956 mining related activities were limited to the proclaimed mining grounds concentrated in the central and southern parts of the region along the Witwatersrand gold mining belt. Today mining related activities are no longer limited to the central parts of the province. There are now large mining concession areas in the far south, around Heidelberg, and in the northern parts of the province (Trangos and Bobbins, 2015). This shift in pattern could be attributed to the decline of gold mining on the Witwatersrand reefs around the 1970s, as it became uneconomical to mine poorer quality ores at ever greater depths, as well as the exploitation of gold reserves and also other minerals in other parts of the region. However it does need to be recognised that small-scale and informal mining does still occur in parts of the central mining belt.

Similarly, in 1956 human settlements were located in close proximity to proclaimed mining grounds, but with very few residential areas falling on the Witwatersrand mining belt itself. Over time residential areas have radiated outwards, and by 2013 some have come to fall within actual mining grounds. This can especially be seen just east of Germiston, around Carletonville, and Johannesburg.

The introduction of residential areas on mining ground can be attributed to efforts made between 1965 and 1980, in particular under the auspices of the Mining Rights Act of 1967, to rehabilitate mining ground in close proximity to settlement areas, and the allocation of this land for the settlement of African, coloured and Indian population groups (Mubiwa and Annegarn, 2013). The expansion of residential areas around Soweto and south Germiston were a legacy of this policy implemented during the height of apartheid (Kilian et al., 2005). However there has also been a continued expansion of residential areas onto mining ground in more recent years, for example through efforts to re-compact the city by bridging the north-south divide left by the mining belt. Many of these new areas are not yet well integrated into the urban fabric and are characterised by substandard infrastructure and poor service delivery (Winde and Stoch, 2010).

This map indicates how human settlement patterns relate in complex ways to their physical environment over time. In some areas there has been little mining activity and unconstrained expansion of residential areas; in others there has been continued mining activity and very little residential development. This pattern is to be expected given the environmental and human health challenges presented by mining to adjacent areas where people live. However the relationship between mining and land use patterns is not always this simple. There have also been new residential areas spawned by the opening up of mining concessions, and the deliberate settlement of people on or next to mining ground to promote either segregation or, more recently, integration. From different perspectives then the city-region – and especially the mining frontier along the Witwatersrand – presents a fascinating case of residential land use being profoundly shaped by historical mining activities.

Look out for GCRO's Research Report, Mining Landscapes in the GCR, forthcoming in November 2016.

Notes on the interpretation of the map:

  • The layers labelled 1956 were digitised from high resolution images taken of maps contained in the report by Fair et al. (1957), and checked against a similar set of maps contained in DPE (1974).
  • There may be discrepancies in the scale of some of the map features, as the different original versions were created by different authors. The text does not give an indication of the software utilised in the creation of the maps or when the maps were actually created. In some cases the maps also do not cover the whole of what is today the Gauteng province.
  • The high resolution images were georeferenced using local municipal boundaries as the reference layer and the Vaal river boundary as the point of reference. For further verification the high resolution images were opened in Google Earth to ensure that the land use was coincident with present land use.
  • In the 1956 map the residential areas are separately categorised according to population group. For the purpose of this map all residential areas, regardless of their original classification by race, were grouped together to show residential areas as a whole. The same can also be said for the GTI (2013) data, which categorises residential areas into: residential areas, informal, villages and townships. These separate classes were grouped together to show all areas of human settlement in 2013.
  • The layers for mining related activities were acquired from different sources. For the year 1956, the proclaimed mining grounds were digitised from Fair et al. (1957). The mining concessions layer, dated 2011, was acquired from the DMR.


Cowey, A. (1994) ‘Mining and Metallurgy in South Africa - A Practical History’. MINTEK

Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) (2011) Mining concession areas

Department of Planning and the Environment (DPE) (1974) 'Proposals for a Guide Plan for the Pretoria/Witwatersrand/Vereeniging (PWV) Complex'. Pretoria

Fair, T.J.D. Moolman, J.H. Quass, F.W. Winkle, F.F. Gie, G.W., Sevenster, F.H. and Willers, J.B. (1957) 'A Planning Survey of the Southern Transvaal: The Pretoria-Witwatersrand-Vereeniging Area'. Pretoria: South Africa Natural Resources Development Council

GeoTerra Image (GTI) (2013) Land use change data

Kilian, D., Feihn, H., Ball, J., Howell, D. (2005) ‘Human settlements: background paper for the South Africa national state of the environment project’. Energy Research Centre, Cape Town

Mubiwa, B. and Annegarn, H.( 2013) ‘Historical spatial change in the Gauteng City-Region’. Gauteng City-Region Observatory, Occasional Paper

Trangos, G. & Bobbins, K. ( 2015) ‘Gold mining exploits and the legacies of Johannesburg’s mining landscape’. Scenario Journal 5: Extraction. Online at

Winde, F. and Stoch L. E.J. (2010) ‘Threats and opportunities for post-closure development in dolomitic gold-mining areas of the West Rand and Far West Rand (South Africa) – a hydraulic view Part 1: Opportunities’. Water SA. 36 (1): 69-74


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