Ilan Godfrey documents the impact of South Africa’s mining industry in his book, Legacy of the Mine (PHOTOS).

The Human Cost of South Africa’s Mining Industry 

The Human Cost of South Africa’s Mining Industry 

Behold
The Photo Blog
Sept. 9 2014 12:13 PM

The Human Cost of South Africa’s Mining Industry 

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Former miner Mahlomola William Melato rests during the heat of the day at his home in Oppenheimer Park. After being diagnosed with silicosis, Mahlomola suffered from shortness of breath, a debilitating cough, general body weakness, and discoloration of the skin. He died last year.

Ilan Godfrey

For more than a century, South Africa has been known for its mineral wealth. Although the country is no longer the leading global exporter of gold, its mineral resources still account for a significant portion of world production and reserves, and the mining industry remains one of the country’s largest industrial sectors.

But mining comes with major social and environmental costs. In 2011, South African Ilan Godfrey returned to his native Johannesburg from London with the goal of capturing “the forgotten communities that the mining industry has left behind.” His book, Legacy of the Mine, reflects two years of work looking at the personal tragedies of those who have suffered while business has thrived. “ ‘The mine,’ irrespective of the particular minerals extracted, is central in understanding societal change across the country and evidently comparable to mining concerns around the world,” Godfrey said via email. “This enabled me to channel my conception of ‘the mine’ into visual representations that gave agency to these communities. The countless stories of personal suffering are brought to the surface.”

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Jeffrey Ramiruti looks out over a stretch of water that has flooded a large part of the Tudor Shaft informal settlement. The settlement is built on top of mine tailings and is surrounded by land contaminated by mining activities and radioactive dumps, which expose the inhabitants to radiation and dust inhalation.

Ilan Godfrey

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Linda Ndlovu, Daniel Mandlo, Dumisani Mahlangu, and Calvin Sibanda rest after a full night of work in a disused underground gold mine shaft. The men are highly skilled informal diggers with many years of experience. They are commonly confronted by criminals, who beat them and rob them of clothes, mining equipment, and money.

Ilan Godfrey

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Sandile Dlamini, 24, lives in the Payneville squatter camp in Springs. He used to work as a miner at Grootvlei Mine before it closed in 2010. Here, Sandile shows a non-operational ventilation shaft, which is used by illegal miners as an access to Grootvlei Mine.

Ilan Godfrey

Godfrey’s concern about the health and well-being of miners may be best exemplified by the story of Mahlomola William Melato, a gold miner who, in 2008, was diagnosed with tuberculosis and, in 2010, with silicosis, before losing his job. The mine that employed him provided neither an alternative position nor medical assistance. The government then denied his application for compensation. Last year, Melato died of his illnesses. “Melato’s story is representative of so many men just like him that leave their family and home, traveling long distances to the city in search of work, often finding they have little choice but to join mining operations,” Godfrey said. “Few can afford to return to their community and if they do so many are welcomed back weak and sick.”

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While mines do provide jobs in economically marginal areas, Godfrey said, the opportunities are limited. Alcoholism, prostitution, and sexually transmitted diseases are rampant in mining hostels that lie adjacent to mines. Near mine dumps, informal settlements have developed, where communities are at risk of air pollution, fires, water contamination, and other dangerous conditions. Meanwhile, thousands of derelict and abandoned mines are spread across South Africa, where “informal” miners, known as zama-zamas, risk their lives by going deep underground in abandoned mine shafts. 

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The suburb of Diamanthoogte is on the outskirts of the diamond mining town of Koffiefontein in the Free State province. During the summer, children enjoy swimming in the canals, which they refer to as the “Long Sea.” The canals carry the overflow of water through the town from Kalkfontein Dam and the mine dam to outlying farms.

Ilan Godfrey

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A mechanical digger was used in the controversial Anglo Platinum's RPM Mogalakwena Section Mine exhumation of 149 graves from a section of the Blinkwater farm. On Nov. 27, 2012, after protests, the remains of 149 people were reinterred.

Ilan Godfrey

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This large sinkhole swallowed up several homes in Likazi informal settlement, which had been built above the abandoned Coronation Colliery. Miraculously, no one was hurt when the land collapsed.

Ilan Godfrey

Godfrey’s book documents these and other consequences of mining, building “a visual narrative that provides agency to those whose lives and livelihoods have been destroyed” by government and industry neglect. But Godfrey’s work is also about the resilience of his subjects. Increasingly, miners are standing up for their rights and legal actions have been taken against mining companies. And on a personal level, Godfrey said, he was touched by the generosity of the people he met who helped him with his project.

“It was in many ways a collaborative journey as the people I met helped me make this project possible. They all realized the importance of getting this story out to a wider audience. South Africans invited me into their homes, offered me a hot meal at the end of a long day and a bed to sleep in. I was overwhelmed at the support and kindness of everyone I met on this incredible journey,” he said.  

Godfrey’s book, Legacy of the Mine, is available to buy online. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

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“King G” was born and raised in Kimberley and now lives in the suburb of Homestead. There was a time when he made a living from buying and selling diamonds from informal diamond diggers in the area. He now entertains crowds by spinning and drifting his classic Mercedes at the Monster Mob Raceway.

Ilan Godfrey

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A disused entrance, with the Lonmin Platinum 4B Incline on the horizon.

Ilan Godfrey

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Thirty-four white wooden crosses symbolize the slaying of the Lonmin miners at the Koppies in Marikana by South African police on Aug. 16, 2012.

Ilan Godfrey

Jordan G. Teicher is the associate editor of Slates Behold blog. Follow him on Twitter.