A photographic exhibition entitled, The Price of Gold is on display at the Iziko Slave Lodge. Curated by Cape-Town photographer Thom Pierce, the exhibition raises awareness of a group of gravely ill miners and their families who have applied for a class-action lawsuit against the South African gold-mining industry for exposure to toxic silica dust in the mines. This relevant exhibition highlights the plight of South African miners as a human rights issue in an industry encumbered poor safety conditions, labour unrest and economic uncertainty.
Price of Gold provides museum-goers with the opportunity to fully immerse themselves in the lives and plight of the miners suffering from silicosis. The exhibition is a multimedia experience of audio recordings and photographs featuring 56 plaintiffs and their families, including the widows of the miners who have died from the disease. Visitors are able to travel through the darkened halls of the exhibition space wearing mining helmets fitted with headlamps, creating a first-person experience of what the miners encounter underground.
“Iziko Museums of South Africa provides the public with platforms for engagement and discussion about the relevant and contemporary challenges affecting South Africa today. Under the theme, ‘human wrongs to human rights’, the Iziko Slave Lodge attempts to raise awareness of human rights issues such as the plight of the miners brought to the fore by Thom Pierce,” says Rooksana Omar, CEO, Iziko Museums of South Africa.
Thom Pierce covered vast distances over 20 days, travelling through the Eastern Cape and Free State provinces via the mountains of Lesotho, and up to Johannesburg, to document the people at the forefront of the case against the mining giants. These men and women were either miners or were left behind after the migrant workers contracted silicosis and/or TB. The project is a collaboration with the Treatment Action Campaign and Sonke Gender Justice, and is funded by the Heinrich Böll Foundation.
Since 1965 thousands of miners have been diagnosed with silicosis, a preventable but incurable lung disease contracted in the gold mines through inadequate protection from silica dust. Miners who contract silicosis suffer from fatigue, shortness of breath and are prone to lung infections, respiratory failure and tuberculosis (TB).
Many of the miners who contract silicosis and/or TB return home to die a slow and painful death, while their wives support and care for them under the most adverse conditions. According to a 2007 Global Occupational Health Network report, gold-mining houses have not taken necessary precautions to prevent miners from inhaling toxic dust, and hundreds of infected miners retire without being compensated.
The class-action certification hearings were heard in the Johannesburg High Court in October last year, and a ruling is expected to be made in 2016.
To read more about Thom Pierce’s journey, visit www.the-price-of-gold.com
Happening at the Iziko Slave Lodge, until 29 February 2015
*See the exhibition after-hours at the Iziko Slave Lodge on First-Thursdays on 4 February 2016 from 17h00—21h00.
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