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'We are more than happy, but many people died for nothing' - miners react to historic ruling

Jul 26 2019 13:03
Tehillah Niselow, Fin24
Former miners celebrate the news the approval of a

Former miners celebrate the news the approval of a R5bn Silicosis settlement agreement outside the Johannesburg High Court on July 26, 2019. (Tehillah Niselow / Fin24)

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They travelled through the night from the Eastern Cape to witness the historic judgment - and while they did not come into the courtroom, they celebrated through song and dance.

The group of ex-gold miners stood outside the Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg on Friday, holding up a banner stating they were from the SA Destitute ex-miners forum.

Moments earlier, the court approved a historic R5bn settlement agreement in the lengthy silicosis case which has taken 14 years to reach finality.

They 'died for nothing' 

Gesturing to his back, Nky Sifanelo, a 57-year-old former gold miner says the pain from his lungs extends across the upper half of his torso. He worked at four mines as a winch operator but can only recall the names of the places he worked, not the companies. In 2015, in Buffelsfontein, south-west of Johannesburg, he was informed he had silicosis and sent home, he told Fin24. 

Sifanelo said he was given no money at the time and was sent home to Lusikisiki in the Eastern Cape. He is hopeful that the R5bn from the six mining companies earmarked for thousands of miners, ex-employees and dependents of those who have since died, will alleviate some of his pain. 

“Many people died for nothing,” Sifanelo says of silicosis and tuberculosis, affecting miners not adequately shielded from the effects of gold dust underground. 

Silicosis, a lung disease is caused from exposure to years of silica dust which is a tiny crystal found in sand, rock, or mineral ores. Companies are today required to protect employees from this. Symptoms usually worsen over time as scarring in the lungs occurs, making it harder to breathe.

Another ex-miner who asked to remain anonymous, worked for 30 years as a battery changer at Sibanye Gold, Beatrix Mine which was spun off from Gold Fields. He comes from Flagstaff in the Eastern Cape. 

'My chest hurts all the time'

The 54-year-old was informed that he had silicosis from working underground in 2013. 

“When I walk, I can’t breathe properly, my chest hurts all the time,” the former gold miner said through a translator. 

He has six children and hopes to use the money from the settlement agreement to put them through school. 

The funds will be dispersed by the Tshiamiso Trust which has a budget of R845m for the enormous administrative procedure that will entail locating and medically screening miners across South Africa.

The six mining companies who formed part of the class action agreement are African Rainbow Minerals‚ Anglo American SA‚ AngloGold Ashanti‚ Gold Fields‚ Harmony and Sibanye Stillwater and they will pay from R70 000 to R500 000 depending on the type of claim for workers who were on the mines from 1965. 

The mining companies admit that in the past they failed to take necessary precautions to protect their employees from the silica dust that rises from the gold mines.

'More than happy'

Thobelo Jojo who worked as a team leader in the Kloof Mine at Goldfields, before it was sold to Sibanye is almost deaf, which he says is due to the noise underground. 

At 64 years old he says he’s “more than happy” that he will now be compensated after being diagnosed with silicosis. 

He describes a desperate situation at home in Mount Fletcher in the Eastern Cape with no money for food.

"I’m hungry now," he says. 

Trust fund

Former Chief inspector of mines and academic, Professor May Hermanus will chair the trust fund. The trustees will be responsible for locating and medically examining thousands of miners across South Africa in a process that is expected to last for 12 years.

In another historic judgment in May, 2016 the case was certified as a class-action suit by the high court. In December 2018 the court declared four classes of claimants: people who contracted silicosis or were exposed to silica dust, the dependents of deceased miners who fell ill with silicosis, people suffering from tuberculosis, and the dependents of deceased miners who contracted tuberculosis.

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