Lesser Flamingo Life and Death: Nourishing Toxicity, ‘Generous’ Mines and Metabolic Transitions in Kimberley, South Africa

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What makes a worthwhile object of care? Early in 2019 lesser Flamingo chick euphoria took hold of the small historical diamond mining city of Kimberley in central South Africa. A rapid, publicly driven rescue operation mobilized in response to the plight of thousands of baby flamingos, abandoned by their flock due to drought. Hundreds of volunteers streamed to the SPCA on the edge of the city where we cradled soft, quaking, chicks in our hands, tenderly forcing beaks open for syringes loaded with prawns and baby cereal, depleting these stocks from city supermarkets. The plight of the flamingoes was broadcast as far as the CNN, and donations solicited and sent from across the globe. Prominent among these was a local diamond mining company. The narrative around the plight of the chicks suggested the local municipality was to shoulder the blame for what was assumed to be a native flock crucial for species survival. However, the flock only settled there in 2005, and lesser flamingo regularly experience successive failed breeding seasons. Regarding municpal negligence, it was the most likely the very presence of effluent in water run-off that attracted them in the first instance due to its role in the production of nutritious algae. The same effluent is used in mining operations. This paper takes a cue from Hannah Landecker to “recount the remaking of nutritive and toxic relations between plants, animals, microbes, minerals and humans” (2019:551). Drawing on ethnography, interviews and media analysis I trace the value of sewerage in a complex web of care and value anchored in colonial and Apartheid norms of personhood. The analysis is scaled from minutiae (algae and mineral), across geological time, and geopolitical space (including Apartheid infrastructures, and bird and human guts). This metabolic approach conducted in the city famous for “the Big Hole” (the world’s largest open-pit mine) helps us glimpse the stakes in fashioning environments in the name of care.

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Creative Commons Licence

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Contributed date

September 8, 2021 - 3:56am

Critical Commentary

Abstract by Carina Truytssubmitted to the 4S 2021 Panel Toxic Goodness: Harmful Legacies, Hopeful Futures

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Cite as

Carina Truyts, "Lesser Flamingo Life and Death: Nourishing Toxicity, ‘Generous’ Mines and Metabolic Transitions in Kimberley, South Africa", contributed by Duygu Kasdogan, STS Infrastructures, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, last modified 8 September 2021, accessed 20 October 2021.