Sil­i­co­sis: Too late for some as gold

Im­pov­er­ished fam­i­lies will have some re­lief af­ter a class ac­tion against 29 min­ing firms suc­ceeds

Mail & Guardian - - News - Lu­cas Led­waba

Ziyanda Man­jati, as she so of­ten does, was call­ing to in­form a for­mer mineworker liv­ing in the ru­ral East­ern Cape about a meet­ing. The fam­ily in­formed her that the man had died that very morn­ing.

“Yooh!” Man­jati ex­claims from her of­fice in Main Street, Port St Johns, when asked how many of her clients have died dur­ing her six years work­ing on the project to sign up for­mer minework­ers for the sil­i­co­sis class ac­tion. She works as a project co-or­di­na­tor for lawyer Richard Spoor in the East­ern Cape town. For the past six years she has trav­elled around the prov­ince to en­cour­age for­mer minework­ers and their de­pen­dents to sign up for the class ac­tion brought by Spoor against 29 min­ing com­pa­nies in 2001.

Dur­ing that time, she reck­ons at least 50 of the peo­ple she has reg­is­tered have died. The number of sil­i­co­sis deaths since 1965 is es­ti­mated to be in the thou­sands.

Added to the emo­tional strain of her job is her daily en­counter with the ab­ject poverty and des­ti­tu­tion in which most of these men and their fam­i­lies live.

“Most of them have no [proper] houses. I could say 100% of them live in poverty,” she says.

In many cases, she found fam­i­lies with no food and no hope, just wait­ing and hop­ing for the case to be fi­nalised. Many of the men are un­able to do any du­ties that re­quire phys­i­cal ex­er­tion because of their poor health. As a re­sult, women and wid­ows are left to work the land to sus­tain their fam­i­lies.

Man­jati’s work has in­cluded mak­ing pre­sen­ta­tions to tra­di­tional coun­cils, mu­nic­i­pal coun­cil­lors and other lo­cal struc­tures to fa­cil­i­tate the process of in­form­ing and gath­er­ing for­mer minework­ers to sign up for the class ac­tion.

It was no easy task, made even more dif­fi­cult by cases of swindlers who had taken ad­van­tage of the for­mer minework­ers un­der the guise of help­ing them to claim their monies from their for­mer em­ploy­ers, only to dis­ap­pear with their cash.

There were also other press­ing is­sues, such as the med­i­cal records of the for­mer minework­ers, many of whom are il­lit­er­ate or have low lev­els of for­mal ed­u­ca­tion.

“Many of them did not un­dergo exit med­i­cal ex­ams. Many of the minework­ers were not given their med­i­cal records when they left the mines. [I would say] only about 10% of them had their records,” she says.

This has made the work of the lawyers even more dif­fi­cult because, to qual­ify for a pay­out, the for­mer work­ers need to prove that they al­ready suf­fered from sil­i­co­sis or tu­ber­cu­lo­sis when they left the mines. Added to this is the fact that many of the men died in their homes or in ru­ral clin­ics. Their fam­i­lies did not re­quest that post­mortems be con­ducted. As a re­sult, many were sim­ply clas­si­fied as hav­ing died of nat­u­ral causes.

Man­jati’s phone hasn’t stopped ring­ing since the an­nounce­ment of the set­tle­ment last week. Des­per­ate for­mer minework­ers are call­ing ev­ery other minute to ask when they will be paid out. De­pen­dents and desti­tute wid­ows are in­quir­ing about the next step. For­mer minework­ers who had not been part of the lit­i­ga­tion are call­ing to find out whether they can still sign up and how.

Ac­cord­ing to the set­tle­ment, the for­mer minework­ers and their ben­e­fi­cia­ries are likely to re­ceive pay­outs of be­tween R70000 and R500000, de­pend­ing on which of the 10 classes of claimants they fall un­der. The pay­ments will be made through the Tshi­amo Trust.

Ac­cord­ing to the Oc­cu­pa­tional Dis­eases in Mines and Works Act, work­ers di­ag­nosed with first-de­gree

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