Zama Zamas. Mining Coal to Survive

Production: Arte
Country: France
Year: 2022
Duration: 24'
Directed by: Sophie Bontemps

They live in the black lung of South Africa: a wasteland of coal and poverty, pierced by tens of abandoned mines, two hours’ drive from Pretoria. In defiance of danger, and because they have nothing else to feed their families, the “zama zamas” descend at their peril into old coal mines, closed years ago by the big companies.

In Zulu, “Zama zama” means “those who try and try again”. Underground, there’s no oxygen and breathing is difficult. These courageous men use pickaxes and no protection whatsoever to dig out what’s left of the ore to earn enough to survive.

They can carry one ton of coal on their backs, every day. This film is the story of these miners, trapped by deadly pollution in one of the world’s most polluted regions in terms of nitrogen dioxide and sulfur. At a time of unprecedented climate crisis, South Africa continues to generate 86% of its electricity from coal.

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