Suffering lit­i­gants re­joice over min­ing houses’ R5-bil­lion

Mail & Guardian - - News - Lu­cas Led­waba

Mtho­beli Gan­gatha of­ten coughs up blood. This has be­come a nor­mal part of life for the for­mer mineworker. He has learnt to ac­cept that noth­ing, not even part of the R5-bil­lion set­tle­ment an­nounced by lawyers re­cently, will ever re­verse his con­di­tion.

Although he ap­pears to be a healthy and fit man, he is not. He has sil­i­co­sis, an in­cur­able lung dis­ease caused by many years of ex­po­sure to sil­ica dust in mines.

Gan­gatha con­tracted sil­i­co­sis dur­ing the 16 years he worked at the Unisel Gold Mine in Welkom. In 2001, he be­came gravely ill and was re­trenched. He was told to go home — es­sen­tially to wait to die.

But on Tues­day, the very much alive man joined other for­mer gold minework­ers in Mthatha in the East­ern Cape to sign le­gal doc­u­ments as part of an out-of-court set­tle­ment in which min­ing com­pa­nies have agreed to pay R5-bil­lion to for­mer em­ploy­ees who con­tracted sil­i­co­sis and tu­ber­cu­lo­sis af­ter March 12 1965.

Gan­gatha is one of the lit­i­gants in the class ac­tion brought against 29 gold-min­ing com­pa­nies in the Jo­han­nes­burg high court by lawyer Richard Spoor in 2001. Be­tween them, the com­pa­nies have owned 78 gold mines since 12 March 1965.

“We have re­ally, re­ally suf­fered,” says Gan­gatha, who now runs a driv­ing school with his wife No­sisi in the town of Lusik­isiki.

The court must still re­view and ap­prove the set­tle­ment. But news of the agree­ment reached be­tween lawyers for the for­mer minework­ers and the Oc­cu­pa­tional Lung Dis­ease Work­ing Group has brought about re­newed hope for men like Gan­gatha.

The work­ing group rep­re­sents the re­spon­dents — min­ing com­pa­nies African Rain­bow Min­er­als, An­glo Amer­i­can SA, An­gloGold Ashanti, Gold Fields, Har­mony and Sibanye-Still­wa­ter.

Gan­gatha was di­ag­nosed with sil­i­co­sis in 2012. Af­ter he was re­trenched, he was not pro­vided with records of his exit med­i­cal ex­am­i­na­tion. He was paid out R29 000 from his prov­i­dent fund.

“I have al­ways be­lieved that we will win this fight. Now I just wish they could pay us out this year so that we can im­prove our lives,” he says.

But the set­tle­ment has come too late for many. Zwe­lend­aba Mgidi, one of the lit­i­gants, died in Fe­bru­ary. His widow, Noz­iqhamo Mgidi, says that, dur­ing his fi­nal days, he ag­o­nised over the class ac­tion. He was paid out just slightly more than R70 000 af­ter work­ing on the mines for more than 30 years.

“He was al­ways worried that the case would be fi­nalised long af­ter he had died,” says Noz­iqhamo, who is dressed in the tra­di­tional navy-blue mourn­ing out­fit.

Mgidi, who was also di­ag­nosed with sil­i­co­sis, sup­ported his fam­ily with the monthly R1 600 state dis­abil­ity grant he had re­ceived since 2011. It was barely enough to sus­tain Noz­iqhamo and their four chil­dren. Now that he is gone and the grant has been dis­con­tin­ued, life has be­come even tougher for the un­em­ployed widow.

The fam­ily has to sur­vive on the crops Noz­iqhamo cul­ti­vates in the gar­den along­side where Mgidi and four other rel­a­tives are buried.

“I don’t know how much they will pay us but I hope it will be enough to change our lives,” says Noz­iqhamo, three of whose chil­dren are with­out jobs and are sit­ting idle at home. The other is in high school.

“Life is hard. It has be­come even more dif­fi­cult since my hus­band died,” she says.

The death of bread­win­ners has been dev­as­tat­ing for their fam­i­lies. Many of them rely on so­cial grants and live in poverty in ru­ral vil­lages. So the news of the set­tle­ment has brought hope to for­mer min­ers, their wid­ows and or­phans such as Kany­isa Fono.

Now 21, Kany­isa was a baby when her fa­ther, Malulu Fono, died from

Blood­lines: Mtho­beli Gan­gatha (left) is a lit­i­gant in the class ac­tion brought against 29 min­ing com­pa­nies. He worked on a gold mine for 16 years, dur­ing which time he con­tracted sil­i­co­sis. Noz­iqhamo Mgidi’s (right) hus­band died be­fore the set­tle­ment was reached. Pho­tos: Del­wyn Verasamy

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