Johannesburg-based photographer Ilan Godfrey has won the inaugural OPENPhoto Award for the essay Legacy of the Mines, his intriguing and evocative series of square images depicting people on the fringes of the commodity world. By staff reporter.
Godfrey’s essay comprised 12 photographs of people whose lives are linked to the mining industry, which is estimated to employ half-a-billion people.
Sandile Dlamini, 24, lives in the Paynville squatter camp, Springs. He worked as a miner at Grootvlei mine before it closed in 2010. Sandile showed me a ventilation shaft used by illegal miners as an access point. ‘Men have fallen to their death trying to climb into this shaft.” Sandile has been a Zama Zama or ‘illegal miner’. Sandile says, “the conditions are unbearable and you can stay underground for six months to a year and only come up for food when it runs out.” The men that organise the illegal mining operations are known as the ‘Kingpins’ and are all from Zimbabwe. One gram of gold is worth R250. Life for these miners can often become violent as they fight for the best spots and in some cases murdering each other deep underground. Photograph: Ilan Godfrey.
Thokozani Sikhakhae, 20, works as a security guard at ERPM Cason Shaft. The mine was originally established in 1896 and was one of the deepest mines in the world at 3585 meters deep. It is situated on the Witwatersrand Basin near the town of Boksburg. Underground mining was suspended in October 2008 following the cessation of the pumping of underground water for safety reasons, following the death of two employees overcome by carbon monoxide.
Photograph: Ilan Godfrey.
A man goes in search of coal at Delagoa colliery in the Witbank area. David Ndlovu, from KwaGuqa was walking to work along one of the many footpaths which criss-cross the mine in 1999 when a sinkhole collapsed beneath him. As he sank into the ground, he was badly burned up to his waist by the coal, which has been burning underground since the mine was decommissioned in the 1950s. Photograph: Ilan Godfrey.
Michael Wilheim Calitz, 26, rents a room in Cinderella Hostel, Boksburg. He begs on the street to earn money to support his son, Dillan, who lives with his mother. He also offers himself for sexual acts with men. Cinderella hostel was the migrant worker compound for ERPM Cason Shaft. It is one of many hostels around South Africa that was part of the migrant labour system under Apartheid. These hostels still contribute to the spread of HIV related diseases, tuberculosis, pneumonia and other air-borne infections. Photograph: Ilan Godfrey.
Monde, Puleng, Zizipho and Khuselo play on the Riverlea mine dump near their homes in Johannesburg. This is where the first discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand Main Reef was made in 1886. For decades, gold miners have been extracting residual gold from the dumps. Today chemical methods are used to enable companies to ‘re-mine’ the dumps, slowly changing the Johannesburg landscape once again. For every metric tonne of solid waste heaped in the dumps there is just 0.3 grams of gold. Photograph: Ilan Godfrey.
Other entries included Sada Tangara’s disturbingly peaceful images street of children sleeping rough in Dakar, and an entry by Phill Magakoe about the four children who starved to death while searching for food in the rural north west of South Africa.
According to competition organisers, many of the essays spoke of how the race for African resources played out both socially and politically, while others were of a more personal nature. Subjects varied from Anne Ackerman’s very intimate depictions of trauma in northern Uganda, following abductions by the Lord’s Resistance Army, to Nseabasi Akpan’s black-and-white images of Nigerian women in politics and Andrew Esiebo’s portrayal of human rights activists in South Africa.
Judges say the winner needed to present “strong, interpretive documentary work that [had] a voice… Powerful images that [spoke] of the implications of Africa’s booming economies and of the deepening inequalities.”
The OPENPhoto Award, built on the theme 'Money, Power and Sex: the Paradox of Unequal Growth', aims to encourage analytical and critical thinking about society in Africa, viewed through the prism of inequality.
The competition was timed to allow some of the entrants’ images to be exhibited at the Open Society Africa Foundations’ conference 'Money, Power and Sex: The Paradox of Unequal Growth' in Cape Town’s International Conference Centre from 22 – 24 May.
The competition was convened by world-renowned photographer Greg Marinovich, and the jury consisted of acclaimed photographers including Yunghi Kim, Alf Kumalo, Rankin, Boniface Mwangi, Munem Wasif, David Dare Parker, Rodrigo Abd, Jodi Bieber and Ricardo Mazalan. The competition was only open to photographers based in Africa. DM
Photo: Belrose Supermarket and petrol station in Meyerton. With the discovery of gold in the Witwatersrand area in the late 1800’s, a further discovery was made called “Black Reef”, which ran along the bank of the Klip River. Johannes Petrus Meyer, a council member for the Klip River District had a vision for a town in this area. In 1981 the town of Meyerton was officially proclaimed on the 6 June 1891. Photograph: Ilan Godfrey.