THERE is a photograph pinned to the board in my office. It’s an image of a mine worker at the Serra Pelada, a now-defunct open-pit gold mine in Brazil. After a nugget of gold was found on an isolated farm in 1979, people rushed in their thousands to stake claims on the land — there had been nothing like it since the discovery of the Witwatersrand reef almost a century before.A shanty town sprung up around what became a huge chasm in the earth. Nearby villages became notorious hubs of prostitution, booze and murder. Fortunes were made and lost. Basically, it was just like Johannesburg in the early days (some would say Joburg hasn’t changed much in the intervening century).There, however, the similarities to SA end. The mine workers at the Serra Pelada worked under terrible conditions; they were subject to extortion by greedy entrepreneurs who hoarded basic goods to sell them at inflated prices; the state placed operations under the aegis of the Brazilian military; and environmental d...

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