Underground, the air is thick and hot.
Many of the country’s larger mines have methods and systems in place to control the underground dust from the drilling and blasting.
Still, for a majority of these men and women, the systems fail to protect them against two deadly and prominent diseases facing miners - tuberculosis and silicosis.
TB is the biggest infectious killer in South Africa, with statistics from 2011 indicating that there were an estimated 760000 new cases of TB related to the local mining sector.
A new film portraying just how grim the realities are in terms of the health risk these miners face was aired this week on Dstv’s TLC entertainment channel.
To raise more awareness on this issue, Discovery Learning Alliance, with support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Wellcome Trust and Management Sciences for Health (MSH) produced The Lucky Specials.
Independent Media spoke to lead actor Oros Mampofu - previously known for his role in local soapie Skeem Saam - on the complexities of trying to portray his character in the film, Mandla.
His character, a young man, dreams of being a famous musician and is the lead guitarist and singer for his band, The Lucky Specials. But his day job remains working at a gold mine where he eventually contracts TB.
We asked about his role and what he had learnt from delving into the subject of TB:
Prior to you accepting you had been chosen for the role, what did you know about TB and what did you learn during the process?
I had the basic knowledge of the disease from my high school education and having seen peers and extended relatives have the disease. But it was a pretty basic perspective of it. But during the process of making the film I realised there was a lot I was unaware of, such as the medication process and just exactly how much it takes out of a person and how long it lasts. It was very eye-opening but also refreshing to see the power we have as South Africans to overcome it, if we choose to stay on path with medication.
Did you actually go underground to experience a typical day in the life of a miner, if so, what were your thoughts on the conditions?
We went to places where they did underground work to train miners - sort of a simulation room which mimics the conditions miners work under.
Did you identify or relate to any aspects of your character personally?
Absolutely. Mandla is a musician and I have been a churchgoer for most of my life so I have been exposed to many genres of music as well. I am very passionate about music. Another great aspect of Mandla is that he is a dreamer. It just humbled me to realise the role we as storytellers have to tell of the human condition.
How did the role help you grow as an actor? What did you learn that you hadn’t known before?
We as actors have a huge responsibility and a lot of power because we are in essence reflecting these issues to society and these stories have a strong effect on people. It was a physically challenging role for me to depict a young man with TB. I did a lot of running to lose weight, sometimes I wouldn’t eat for some time before shooting just to bring out that realness of hunger so that I could connect to it.
This movie focuses on the threat of TB. What advice would you give the youth about making informed health decisions?
It will enlighten a lot of people, not just me, on how easy it is to fall prey to this disease. But it also empowers us to get more knowledge on it and break away from the stereotypes and stigmas attached to it.
The film was produced by local company Quizzical Pictures and aims to entertain and educate audiences across sub-Saharan Africa and empower communities to make informed decisions about their health and to replace misconceptions about the disease. It explains how TB spreads and how it can be cured, and also shows the journey of the disease inside the body through state-of-the-art animation. The film will also be a Clinton Global Initiative Commitment to Action, addressing the critical need for behaviour change around tuberculosis across the African continent.
It will repeat on Sunday, August 20 at 8pm on TLC Entertainment