Like most miners in South Africa, many Gold Fields workers live in shacks. The company says on its website that it has reduced room density in its hostels to just over two to a room from six in 2006 in a major housing investment program. Ramphele's interest in the plight of people living in overcrowded hostels led her to start the Western Cape Men's Hostel Dwellers Association in the 1980s.
In 1988 she went to Harvard University as the Carnegie Distinguished International Fellow and wrote a doctorate of philosophy thesis based on her research at hostels. She later wrote a book about life in the migrant labor hostels.
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