COMING 2018. The mines of Johannesburg, or Jozi, have produced a third of all the gold mined in human history. Now the mines are falling apart and the city confronts an environmental nightmare: Tons of radioactive waste polluting the air and turning water into poisonous Acid Mine Drainage. Former Jehovah’s Witness Mariette is on a mission to uncover the truth about Jozi’s mine waste and force the gold industry to take responsibility.
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When I first met Mariette Liefferink almost ten years ago I thought she might be crazy, but not because of her outrageous clothes or eccentric habits; the horrifying things she told me about Johannesburg’s gold mine waste were simply unbelievable. If what Mariette was saying was true, why didn’t the whole world know? As a writer and image-maker with degrees in environmental science, my own background research confirmed that she was revealing dangerous, long-hidden facts about Johannesburg’s massive mine dumps, which really do threaten the health of millions of people. I’ve come to see Mariette as a courageous, effective and deeply human truth-teller in a world of bullshitters and opportunists. She’s an ideal character through which to reveal the global gold industry and my happy-sad country of South Africa, the perfect anchor to an epic story that I can’t wait for us to tell.
Jozi Gold is a South African story with global implications. Te team is made up of an impressive array of professionals who have an extensive history of collaboration. Fredrik Gertten and I have known each other and worked together for more than 30 years. My passion for this story is further fuelled by my admiration for Mariette, a white, middle-class Afrikaner woman who has no formal training in any of the issues she tackles so dexterously. Telling Mariette’s story will inspire people everywhere into understanding that one ordinary person can make an extraordinary difference.
I worked as a journalist in South Africa in the 1980s until the day Mandela was inaugurated as President 1994. Te mine dumps, the anti-Apartheid struggle and the friends I made there are a part of my history, so when Adam came to me with this troubling and inspirational story I wanted to help out frst as a producer, now as a co-director. Our main character, Mariette Lieferink, has no formal education and she was a Jehova’s Witness for 25 years; if she can take on huge and powerful corporations we all can, there’s no excuse! She is maybe the coolest and most colourful documentary character I have ever met. This will be fun and disturbing flm.
In 1886 the world’s largest gold deposits were discovered in a rural part of South Africa. A boomtown was born: Johannesburg, Africa’s richest city.
Gold production peaked in 1970 and declined rapidly in the late 1980s when the best ore was mined out. The Apartheid regime collapsed in the early 1990s along with gold output. Te mines have left six billion tons of solid waste in surface dumps… 600,000 tons are radioactive. Uranium is naturally found in the same rock as gold. Tens of millions of litres of Acid Mine Drainage, a toxic soup that forms when water comes into contact with mined rock, flow out of disused mine tunnels every day.
Almost no research has been done and for decades anyone who dared to look into it was defunded or intimidated. A recent study estimated that up to 1,6-million people may be living dangerously close to mine waste dumps. Mines and the government fear that clean-up and healthcare costs of mine pollution might equal 60 years’ of gold industry profits. Because there is a great and general reluctance to address the problem, the work of Mariette Liefferink has taken centre stage.
Title: Jozi Gold
Release year: 2018
Length: 90 min
Director: Sylvia Vollenhoven, Fredrik Gertten
Producers: Margarete Jangård (WG Film)
Co-Producers: Anita R Larsen (Sant & Usant)
Executive Producer: Fredrik Gertten
Editor: Stefan Sundlöf
Cinematography: Maanda Nwendamutswu