In early 2016 the High Court in Johannesburg will decide if a class action lawsuit can be laid against 32 gold mining companies in South Africa.
Three law firms are representing a group of miners who are applying for this class action on behalf of all miners suffering from Silicosis or Pulmonary Tuberculosis as a result of working in the gold mines.
Over a period of 20 days in September and October 2015 Thom Pierce traveled around South Africa’s Eastern Cape, into Lesotho and up to Johannesburg to find and photograph the 56 sick miners and widows named in the lawsuit. The 56 large portraits were displayed in the Central Methodist Church, next door to the courtroom, at the time of the case in October 2015. The exhibition took place in the dark with only the light from torches on the helmets that the audience were wearing to light the way. This was a piece of advocacy, to put a human face to the often stark and detached courtroom proceedings.
Silicosis is a preventable but incurable lung disease that is contracted in the gold mines through inadequate protection from silica dust. Miners who contract silicosis get tired and out of breath quickly and are prone to lung infections, respiratory failure and TB. Most miners who became sick were sent home with little or no compensation and no hope of finding further employment.
This project was made in partnership with the Treatment Action Campaign and Sonke Gender Justice.
About the author
Thom Pierce was born on the island of Jersey in 1978. He lives and works in Cape Town, South Africa as a photographer. He has been published in The Guardian, Sunday Times, Mail & Guardian and many other magazines, books and news publications. His work has featured heavily as part of several human rights campaigns and a selection is held in the permanent collection of the South African National Gallery.