WORKING THE BLACK SEAM
south african photographer
This series comprises portraits of the men that illegally dig for coal deep underground in the abandoned Imbabala coal mine in Ermelo, Gert Sibande District. The air is thick and hot with very little oxygen and no light. Young men desperate to earn a living wage risk their lives everyday for around $22 to extract coal from abandoned coal seams. As these cavities begin to crack and coal pillars are slowly dug away, these young men risk being buried underground with no way out.
It was during the early stages of the project that I met Matthews Hlabane an environmental activist focusing on projects related to the impact of coal mining on communities in the Emalahleni and Ermelo region. Over the years Matthews knowledge and expertise has been an important resource and one that Christopher Rutledge from ActionAid South Africa and myself, have relied on to further inform our own research.
It was in early 2014 that I was commissioned to work with Amandla magazine, which is published by the NGO called the ‘Alternative Information Development Centre’. The project would look at the affects of coal mining in the Emalahleni and Ermelo region. It was through this initial project and working alongside Matthews that I was introduced to the mining and extractives work ActionAid is doing.
I was approached by Christopher Rutledge to collaborate with ActionAid on various projects related to coal mining. One of these projects titled ‘Working the Black Seam’ initiated by Amandla magazine would form the bases for further work around this issue and would go on to be published as a book titled, ‘Dirty Power – at whose cost?’ Published by the Mining and Extractives programme of ActionAid South Africa (AASA), 2014.
Even though the series depicts a small aspect of the work ActionAid and I undertook across the region, it speaks volumes about how the people that live in South Africa play an integral part in our extractive processes and introduces key issues that cannot be ignored.