The angular white patches and dots spreading left to right in a swath across this scene are “mine dumps,” the waste material left over after small quantities of gold have been extracted. The dumps point to the world's richest gold mining district, known as the Witwatersrand, which is now occupied by a string of 14 towns and probably well more than the 3.5 million people estimated to live there in the mid-1980s.
Johannesburg, South Africa's largest city, lies at the center of the view where the swath of dumps intersects the country's main north-south highway that can be seen crossing the view from top right to bottom left. Johannesburg was settled as a mining town in 1886 when gold was found in the Witwatersrand, but the gold is now beginning to run out. In anticipation of this, South Africa has made major and successful efforts to develop a manufacturing sector that, by the late twentieth century, was more important to the country than gold mining.
December 1990, image STS-35-80-32.