Clint Smith’s complete piece in the film They Go to Die

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Do you know what it feels like
to have a machete taken to your lungs?
To hold a drill in your hand for so long
you forget it’s not a part of your body?
To work in a place where light
at the end of the tunnel,
is more than just a figure of speech?

Welcome to the mines

Where men work so far underground
that sunlight is manufactured
from headlamps and golden soot.

Where the sounds of breaking bodies
are drowned beneath a cacophony
of hallowed coughs and hammers.

Where disease, festers in the air
as if the earth
were holding a grudge
against mankind for failing to keep her secrets.

In the South African gold mines,
the reality of tuberculosis
can make every breath feel like a death sentence.
The toxic dust from million year-old rocks
like a swarm of dancing landmines
along the walls of your ribcage.
A bombardment of bacteria
crawling through your throat.

Tsunamis of silicosis and sweat
crashing against shores of black backs
like a crystalline whip—

So these men,
with cobblestone skin, jackhammer hearts
and jawbones clenched like redemption—
Expose themselves
to a world of disease and degradation
unlike anywhere else on earth.

How ironic,
that the industry responsible
for the success of South Africa’s economy,
is also culpable for a pandemic
wiping out thousands of its people.

These are the consequences of corporate indifference.
Where executives unwilling to part ways
with a pocket change percentage of their profits,
enable illness to run rampant
in a community they’re supposed to protect.
With golden clocks hanging in their offices like stolen halos
they refuse to provide real care
for the very people who created their wealth.

So why would anyone subject themselves to this?
But what choice does a man have
when he has to feed his family?
When jobs are as scarce as roses
on a crumbling battlefield.
When he knows his wife and children can’t survive
off of unfulfilled promises.

So he puts on his hard hat,
turns on his light,
and marches miles beneath the earth
amongst flocks of brown faces.
With no choice but to pummel
his heart against the walls of this mine
as if he were searching for his dignity.

And when the miners are deemed too sick to work,
they are simply sent home,
Like disposable human tools
that have lost the sharpness of their edges.
With HIV and tuberculosis cascading
in a spiral-bound pirouette through their bloodstream.
Fathers falling into the eyes of their children,
praying they wont succumb to the same fate.
Lying on deathbeds made of debris and lost hope
Screaming, at the top of their lacerated lungs.
Ngiya gula!
Ngi khatele!
Ngiya fa!
I am sick!
I am tired!
I am dying!

Imagine your father, choking on the inevitabilities of his past.
Your mother, widowed by the misfortune of other people’s apathy.
Your brothers and sisters, settling for a future that seems all but inescapable.

How much longer can we watch
while generations of black men are cycled
through a system that treats them like dirt.
How much longer,
can we simply watch them,
sent home
to die.