EDITED BY KALAHAN DENG
The most striking thing about Joseph Mothibedi is his voice — it is raspy, a metallic whisper.
It’s the sound of a man slowly dying.
His thin fingers trembling, Mothibedi leans over his simple hot plate and puts a tea kettle on the boil.
The 58-year-old former gold miner looks reduced in his old blue work shirt. It hangs off his bony shoulders as he spreads margarine on a slice of white bread for afternoon tea. He slowly sips it in his barren brick house near an old mine-dump.
“Just listen to my voice,” he says, “I have problems with my lungs. I can’t even walk fast or far. It is very hard for me.”
Mothibedi is stricken with silicosis, an incurable lung condition that affects gold miners in southern Africa.
As the silica particles accumulate, lung function becomes severely limited. The miners have shortness of breath, lose weight, become prone to heart disease and, in the most severe cases, an early death.
Several studies estimate that there are at least two hundred thousand current and former miners in the region suffering from the disease. Researchers have called it a pandemic.