Originally published on The Upcoming on 21st march 2013
“Not every public health disaster can be described in numbers,” says epidemiologist-turned-filmmaker Jonathan Smith, director of They Go to Die.
The gold mines in South Africa have the highest incidence of TB and HIV in the world, employing migrant workers from small villages across the South of the Continent. A tragic mix of silica dust exposure, hot and humid working conditions and cramped living quarters create the perfect environment for TB/HIV to spread. Workers are treated for TB at the mines’ hospitals, but once they become too sick to work they are cast aside, like broken tools, with no ongoing care: “sent home to die”.
They Go to Die focuses on the lives of four ex-mineworkers, telling the human story behind the statistics. There are countless touching moments exploring the universal human experiences of love, family, grief and hope.
Mr. Mkoko worked in the mines to support his wife, sister and two sons. Now his 7-year old son reminds him when to take his medication. “He is a good man. I worry about him,” says the sister he can no longer support.
Mr. Ndlagamandla lives in a remote area of Swaziland. Despite his extreme poverty and ill-health, he keeps smiling; he is a warm character full of laughter even though the future looks bleak for his 14 strong family.
Mr. Mahabi faces the agonising prospect of sending his son to work at the mines, knowing the extreme health risks he will face. It’s heartbreaking to see that the family have no choice, his son must go to work or else they will starve.
Mr. Sagati and his wife reminisce about how they first met – it’s a tender moment. Despite the dangers, he misses working in the mines and wishes he could return; his family have no income now and can’t pay for his treatment.
The film is a stark reminder of the abject poverty faced by so many. Staggering unemployment levels mean that no matter how many workers are “sent home to die” there are always more to take their place. Living in a consumer culture of disposable items, it is grotesque to think that in other parts of the world, human life is just as disposable. This film raises awareness of a problem that is preventable. It’s extremely moving.