In South Africa, the prevalence of silicosis among gold mineworkers is said to be one of the highest in the world. In May 2016 the high court in Johannesburg decided that a class action lawsuit could be laid against 32 gold mining companies in South Africa. Three law firms represented a group of miners who were applying for this class action certification on behalf of all miners suffering from silicosis and pulmonary tuberculosis as a result of working in the gold mines.
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. They are prone to lung infections, respiratory failure and TB.
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 miners and widows named in the court documents. This project was commissioned by the Treatment Action Campaign and Section 27.