UPDATE: On May 13, 2016, South Africa’s high court approved the class action lawsuit against South Africa’s gold mining companies.
Imagine finding out the job that you had done for 35 years had made you sick. And that the sickness meant you were no longer employable in that industry. And that the skills you had learned, after being denied a formal education, were of no use in any other job. You are in your early 50s with no way of making money. And you are sick, so sick that you cannot walk to the end of your garden without having to stop to catch your breath. Imagine that and then look me in the eyes and tell me you don’t deserve compensation.
Over a 20-day period in September and October 2015, I traveled around South Africa and Lesotho to photograph the miners and widows named in the application for a groundbreaking class action lawsuit against 32 South African gold mining companies. The people I met had contracted silicosis, a preventable but incurable disease that causes shortness of breath, lung infections, respiratory failure, and tuberculosis. I wanted to show that they were more than just names on a piece of paper.
My journey involved driving a total distance of 3,100 miles and photographing between two and six portraits each day. I started in the Eastern Cape countryside, one of the most beautiful sights in South Africa and home to many of the former gold miners. There, hills roll into each other, spotted with colorful houses and the winding roads teem with school children, cows, goats, and donkeys.
Navigation in these rural areas is difficult. Distances are vast. A single place name can encapsulate an area spanning hundreds of miles, and the concepts of near and far are relative. When I stopped to ask directions I was often assured the home we were looking for was nearby, only to arrive hours later at a tiny house perched on the top of a distant hill.