Gauteng and NW Province

Profits before people; the effect of mining on the environment

By Michael Singer

In a globalised culture saturated with fears of climate change it is easy to ignore the local effects of mining on people and their environment. But Ilan Godfrey’s ongoing body of work, Legacy of the Mine, provides a graphic portrayal of how people have struggled to cope with the burden of mining.

It has also won him the first OPEN-Photo African Photographic Competition for 2012. The theme of the competition was Money, Sex and Power: The Paradox of Unequal Growth.

Legacy of the Mine speaks directly to the enormous and historical power of the South African mining industry and Godfrey’s images reflect a humanism that makes the viewer pause and consider the stark reality of the inequality in mining.

By congregating a disparate network of people and places, Godfrey succeeds where others have failed: to provide a space for them to be heard and for the magnitude of the damage to be felt.

For more than a century, South Africa has been associated with mineral wealth, both in diversity and abundance.

Not all those affected by mining suffer in the same way: the mining of different minerals results in different forms of environmental change. Whether the environment is subject to ongoing exploitation or written off as irreparable for alternative land use, people’s lives are usually at stake.

Godfrey has established links with leading members of the South African environmental justice movement, including Mariette Liefferink, the founder of the Federation for a Sustainable Environment.

Founded in 2007, the federation has been driving grassroots struggles for environmental justice and drawing attention to the challenges encountered by local communities.

The passage of the Atmospheric Pollution Prevention Act in 1965 can be seen as a product of the work of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and a wide range of outspoken civil society representatives, who were united against the growing scourge of smoke and diesel fumes.

Back then the regulations marked a turning point in South Africa’s environmental history.

Godfrey’s work is a personal and ideological negotiation of the distorted, dusty landscapes, of underground coal fires, desiccated tracts of land and smoky horizons.

He has spoken to many individuals affected by mining, including the workers concerned about the occupational hazards related to mining, people suffering from lung diseases related to dust or smoke exposure and farmers concerned about protecting their land from the effects of mining.

Mail and Guardian
Friday, May 18 to 24, 2012

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