[Marxism] South Africa: Diseased workers take on gold giant

Stuart Munckton stuartmunckton at gmail.com
Wed Nov 18 16:23:28 MST 2009

Diseased workers take on gold giant
DAVID SMITH November 19, 2009

* JOHANNESBURG: *Tens of thousands of goldminers in South Africa have
contracted lung diseases because employers failed to protect them from
harmful dust, it was claimed.

Eighteen former workers who suffer from silicosis or silico-tuberculosis are
bringing a test case against the mining giant Anglo American South Africa, a
subsidiary of the Anglo American Corporation.

If successful, the lawsuit could set a precedent for further litigation
against mining houses for compensation and medical care worth millions of

South Africa's goldmining industry has employed up to half a million miners
over the past century. A series of studies found that one-in-four long-term
miners suffered from silicosis, which put them at increased risk of
tuberculosis and lung cancer.

''There's absolutely no doubt that a huge river of disease is flowing out of
the South African goldmines,'' said Professor Tony Davies, a clinical expert
on occupational health.

The 18 plaintiffs were employed at an Anglo-owned mine in the Free State
from the 1970s to 1998, when Anglo was restructured and moved its head
office to London.

They say they were not provided with face masks or any other protection
against intensive and excessive exposure to dust and were encouraged to
continue working even after they fell ill. They say they received no
aftercare or medical treatment.

Among them is Alpheus Blom, 48, who worked eight hours a day underground.
''They did not give us facemasks …,'' he said this week. ''The masks were
given to people visiting the mine, not us. There was nothing we could do …
we needed work.''

Mr Blom, who was the sole breadwinner but now lives far from his family,
continued: ''When I left … I was told I had silicosis and it is incurable.
There was no way I could work again. I do temp jobs but I cannot really do
anything because I have a shortage of breath.''

He says he does not receive any medical treatment. ''My heart is sore
because the company hasn't done anything … This case is long and I might die
before it's over.''

Black miners, many of them migrants, were the most affected during the
apartheid era. Richard Meeran, a lawyer at London firm Leigh Day and Co, who
is working on the litigation with South Africa's Legal Resources Centre,
said black miners did the dustiest jobs.

Unlike white miners, they did not have access to onsite showers or changing
rooms to remove dust from their bodies.

''Thousands of miners have been sacrificed to profit these mining
corporations,'' Mr Meeran said. ''The goldmining industry has, in the past,
got away with this … because there appears to have been too little regard
for the well-being of black mineworkers. The scale of the disease affecting
South African miners is astronomical.''

The specific claim against Anglo American South Africa alleges it
negligently advised the mines in relation to dust protection of miners. The
claim is seeking compensation and medical help for former miners. Two of the
litigants have died since the action began in 2004.

Anglo American will contest all the allegations in a court case expected to
take place next year.

A spokesman for the company said: ''Anglo American South Africa denies that
it gave negligent advice.''

Guardian News & Media

“Disobedience, in the eyes of anyone who has read history, is man's original
virtue. It is through disobedience that progress has been made, through
disobedience and through rebellion.” — Oscar Wilde, Soul of Man Under

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