Min­ers dy­ing as court bat­tle stalls

Fam­i­lies wait and hope that some day jus­tice will be served

African Times - - Perspectives - LU­CAS LEDWABA

ZWELENDABA Mgidi breathed his last in a ru­ral hospi­tal re­cently. The gold mines that built the coun­try’s econ­omy had eaten again.

Mgidi, of KwaBala in Flagstaff in the Eastern Cape, died from com­pli­ca­tions as­so­ci­ated with sil­i­co­sis.

His was an­other cheap black life wasted in the bow­els of the earth by those who cared only about profit and not the health and safety of work­ers.

Like hun­dreds of thou­sands of other black African men from the South­ern African coun­try­side, cir­cum­stances had forced Mgidi to spend most of his life work­ing down the gold mines of the Free State.

A cruel sys­tem of dis­pos­ses­sion of land and de­struc­tion of the old way of life pushed gen­er­a­tions of men like him into an abu­sive, undig­ni­fied life of labour­ers serv­ing ruth­less rand­lords who cared only about profit.

In the eyes of their ex­ploita­tive bosses they were mere com­modi­ties that did not deserve to be pro­tected from the deadly ef­fects of sil­ica dust gen­er­ated dur­ing gold min­ing.

As a re­sult Mgidi and thou­sands of oth­ers con­tracted sil­i­co­sis, an ir­re­versible lung cancer that re­sults in death.

Two weeks ago Mgidi, who had lived with the dis­ease for many years, died.

His fam­ily had taken him to the Holy Cross hospi­tal near his home­town after he slipped into un­con­scious­ness.

He was de­clared dead mo­ments after his ad­mis­sion.

On Sun­day a som­bre crowd of mourn­ers gath­ered to bid farewell to Mgidi, in the rolling green hills of KwaBala.

Dur­ing the last seven years of his life he had joined the fight against the min­ing com­pa­nies that had left him and scores of his col­leagues help­less wrecks.

Mgidi was one of the plain­tiffs in a class ac­tion against gold min­ing com­pa­nies.

They were de­mand­ing com­pen­sa­tion for their suf­fer­ing, caused by the min­ing com­pany’s fail­ure to pro­vide them with the nec­es­sary health and safety equip­ment that would have helped to safe­guard their health.

The case has dragged for years in the South Gaut­eng High Court and the Con­sti­tu­tional Court.

The min­ing com­pa­nies have been ac­cused of play­ing de­lay­ing tac­tics by re­peat­edly re­sort­ing to le­gal tech­ni­cal­i­ties to op­pose at­tempts by Mgidi and his col­leagues to have the courts val­i­date the class ac­tion.

When he died Mgidi was pen­ni­less, poor and bit­ter.

Dur­ing an in­ter­view at his home in 2016 he told me: “I hate them. Those who owned the mines, I hate them very much. “

This con­tin­ues to be the feel­ing among the vic­tims of South Africa’s gold min­ing in­dus­try.

While there seems to be no end in sight to the court ac­tion, many like Mgidi are dy­ing dirt poor in the vil­lages.

They leave be­hind even poorer chil­dren and fam­i­lies, bro­ken com­mu­ni­ties and shat­tered dreams.

While the min­ing com­pa­nies that left them crip­pled con­tinue to count the prof­its, fam­i­lies are left be­hind to weep and wait for an­swers that may never come.

They wait and hope that some­day jus­tice will be served.

Fam­i­lies con­tinue to wish that their loved ones who sweated blood down the gold mines, at least live longer to at least see jus­tice be­ing served against the neg­li­gent min­ing com­pa­nies. – Muku­rukuru Media

Zwelendaba Mgidi was fea­tured in the book Broke and Bro­ken by Lu­cas Ledwaba and Leon Sadiki. The African Times car­ried an ex­cerpt from the book.

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