In­glo­ri­ous jus­tice

CityPress - - Voices -

The South Gaut­eng High Court this week gave the go-ahead for what will be the largest pub­lic in­ter­est law­suit in our his­tory against the gold min­ing in­dus­try.

There will likely be a set­tle­ment, lead­ing to a trust. This, in turn, will pay out lump sums to thou­sands of men suf­fer­ing from sil­i­co­sis and pul­monary TB – or to their wid­ows or chil­dren – as a re­sult of work­ing on the mines.

The amount of money will seem enor­mous and ex­tend coun­try­wide, to the fur­thest ter­ri­tory where the min­ing in­dus­try built up its labour force. Cash will also flow out to Le­sotho, Mozam­bique, Malawi and else­where.

It will pay off debts, build houses and ed­u­cate chil­dren; it will be wa­ter on a dry sponge. Won­der­ful, but also tragic. It has taken a decade to come this far, and there is more fight­ing ahead.

Sil­i­co­sis is a his­tor­i­cal in­jus­tice for which re­dress can be fought. The case hinges on mines neglecting even their lim­ited du­ties to black work­ers un­der apartheid. There will be no class ac­tion for the in­dig­nity of hos­tels, wages – blacks earned 10% of what their white coun­ter­parts were paid – and the count­less men crushed to death un­der­ground to make pos­si­ble “Africa’s most ad­vanced econ­omy”, now third on the rank­ings list. And we won­der why young peo­ple call the tran­si­tion to democ­racy a sell­out.

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