On May 13th 2016, thousands of gold miners, represented by our partners at the Legal Resources Centre were given the go ahead to proceed with a landmark class action suit against mining firms, the biggest in South Africa’s history. The mining industry faces charges of endangerment and neglect, accused of placing profit margins ahead of the health and well-being of workers. “As miners we were not helped and protected even though our employers knew that we were going to get sick. I am happy and relieved that the court ‘s decision is in our favour” said Mthobeli Gangatha a former gold mine worker living in Lusikisiki in the Eastern Cape.
For decades, southern African goldmine workers have been toiling underground in hazardous conditions and breathing in highly toxic dust particles. As a result, hundreds of thousands of workers have contracted the debilitating lung diseases, silicosis and tuberculosis (TB). Affected miners suffer from shortness of breath, rapid weight loss, become prone to heart disease and often face an early death.
Workers struck down by these diseases have been left physically broken and impoverished. Unable to find new work due to their health problems and receiving paltry compensation, if any, from their former employers, many now depend on their wives or children to put food on the table. Mantso Mokwena, 53, a former worker at Sibanye Gold’s Beatrix mine says: “I contracted TB in 2007 and was terminated from my job. Since then, I haven’t worked.”
Tragically, this ruling will come too late for many; eight out of 24 of the Legal Resource Centre’s named applicants have died since papers were filed in 2013. However, the court ruling will allow for families to sue for compensation on behalf of deceased relatives. This is a great source of comfort to many mineworkers who have felt powerless to help their struggling families after being struck down by disease. 74 year old Vuyani Dwadube reflects: “I’m happy that my child may be able to access the compensation money even if I’m not around.”
The Legal Resources Centre have been involved in this litigation since 2004 in the hope of obtaining compensation for all sick gold miners and their families. This ties in with the LRC’s aim to use the law as an instrument of justice for South Africa’s most marginalised communities.