LEGACY OF THE MINE
South African Photographer
For more than a century, South Africa’s demand for gold, diamonds, coal and platinum has gone from strength to strength, often shifting in accordance with the political economy and the availability of foreign markets. Mineral exploitation by means of cheap and disposable labour has brought about national economic growth, making the mining industry the largest industrial sector in South Africa. Recognised globally for its abundance and variety of mineral resources, which account for a significant proportion of world production and reserves.
‘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. This enabled me to channel my conception of ‘the mine’ into visual representations that gave agency to these forgotten communities. The countless stories of personal suffering are brought to the surface and the legacy of ‘the mine’ is revealed.
This is apparent through land rendered unfit for alternative land uses such as ecotourism and agriculture, through public health crises within local communities unequipped to cope with the burden of air, land and water pollution, and through the disruptive influence of historical labour exploitation impacting on family structures and cultural positioning.
This series of images are part of a larger body of work titled ‘Legacy of the Mine’ which sets out to build a visual narrative that provides agency to those whose lives and livelihoods have been destroyed by mining processes in South Africa and the long-term environmental ramifications, to expose the far-reaching neglect by the successive governments and corporate bodies that have driven the mining industry, to explore how people have coped within their circumstances, and to sensitise a public saturated with the idea of ‘climate change’ by focusing on the local problems that we can actually see. The objective was thus to travel the length and breadth of the land to reveal through the lens the forgotten communities that the mining industry has left behind.
It is apparent that this project resonates universally showcasing issues that we are all familiar with, irrespective of where we live: issues of greed, inequality, overconsumption and environmental degradation. Once a symbol of wealth and a formidable force in the development of South Africa, the mine today reveals the scars of neglect and decay and as such poses an irreversible threat to our society.
Ultimately I hope that this body of work ignites discussion about how we need to stand together in bringing about a broader understanding of our shared resources. We need to acknowledge that the environment is as fragile as the people who live on the land. Growth and development are prerequisites for economic stability, yet we must move forward into a balanced and sustainable future.