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07 December 2023 | Story Leonie Bolleurs | Photo Charl Devenish
Dr Michelle Goliath
Dr Michelle Goliath received her PhD, providing significantly useful insights into artisanal mining. She says it is the prospect of contributing to positive change and advancing understanding in the field that has been the most exciting and fulfilling aspect of completing this research.

Dr Michelle Goliath completed her PhD in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of the Free State (UFS) and received her qualification during the December graduations. 

The PhD, which she began in 2018 under supervision of Prof Malene Campbell, is titled Urban Pacification Strategies and Solutions: Towards a Contested Space Theory of Artisanal Mining.

The focus of her thesis was on finding strategies to address informal mining in urban areas. “It considers the formalisation of informal miners, adapted land use management, risk management solutions, and action research to solve complex problems. In addition, it also looks at the social, economic, and environmental dimensions of the challenge and proposes a unique practical methodology on how to solve similar complex problems and challenges that urban planners and policy makers face daily,” explains Dr Goliath. 

A foundation for informed decision making

She is of the opinion that her research provides a foundation for informed decision making by town planners who seek to proactively address and mitigate challenges around artisanal mining.

Dr Goliath’s thesis introduces innovative strategies for managing land use specifically designed for the challenges of artisanal mining. She believes that recognising the importance of flexible and innovative land-use policies demonstrates a deep understanding of the spatial aspects involved in effectively accommodating and regulating artisanal mining activities. As reported by Dr Goliath, this customised approach ensures that the rules fit the unique characteristics of artisanal mining, promoting sustainable urban development.

Moreover, by integrating action research methodologies into the thesis, a dynamic and collaborative element is introduced into the decision-making process. She says that engaging in practical, on-the-ground research in collaboration with practitioners – in this instance a community of women artisanal miners in Kimberley – advocates for evidence-based decision making in urban planning. “This approach not only enriches the theoretical foundation of the thesis, but also ensures that the proposed solutions are rooted in the practical realities of the South African context,” she states.

Furthermore, the thesis offers both theoretical insights and practical policy recommendations, ensuring that its research findings extend beyond academia. These insights are directly applicable to the challenges confronted by town planners in South Africa and policy planners in other SADEC countries who are still navigating the policy process for similar challenges. “The incorporation of global trends in artisanal mining allows for a comparative approach, enhancing the relevance and transferability of the recommendations both locally and internationally,” remarks Dr Goliath.

The impact of empowerment

She says it is fulfilling to witness the transformative impact of empowerment. “Engaging with and supporting women in the artisanal mining sector has not only enhanced their economic opportunities but has also contributed to broader social and community development. It is the empowerment of these women, their resilience, and the tangible positive shifts in their lives that stand out as the most rewarding and impactful outcomes of my work in Kimberley.”

Besides the opportunity to help this group of women, she was also excited about the chance to contribute new knowledge and insights to the field. “The process of delving into unexplored aspects of artisanal mining in Kimberley, conducting thorough investigations, and analysing longitudinal data has been intellectually stimulating,” she states.

“The prospect of offering novel perspectives, innovative solutions, and evidence-based recommendations through my research is particularly thrilling. Witnessing the potential for this work to make a meaningful impact on policies, practices, and the lives of individuals involved in artisanal mining adds a sense of purpose and excitement to the research journey,” concludes Dr Goliath.

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