THE Mineworkers Development Agency (MDA) says an “alarming number” of Basotho who formerly worked in South African mines were suffering and dying from occupation-related illnesses.
MDA is the development wing of South Africa’s National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). The agency runs a number of programmes aimed at helping ex-mineworkers and their families find new ways to make a living.
MDA Country Director, Puseletso Salae, told the Sunday Express on Friday during an awareness and testing campaign held in Leribe that many Basotho contracted silicosis, while working in the South African mines.
Silicosis is a lung disease caused by breathing in tiny bits of silica, a mineral that is part of sand, rock, and mineral ore such as quartz. It mostly affects workers exposed to silica dust in occupations such as mining, glass-manufacturing, and foundry work. Over time, exposure to silica particles causes scarring in the lungs. In its acute form, silicosis is characterised by breathing difficulty, cough, fever, and cyanosis (bluish skin).
Mr Salae said silicosis symptoms could appear 10 to 30 years after the first exposure, meaning the former miners could start feeling sick many years after leaving employment.
Another ailment the former mineworkers were vulnerable to was asbestosis—a chronic inflammatory and scarring disease affecting lung tissue. It is also characterised by severe shortness of breath and an increased risk for certain cancers, including lung cancer.
“Many Basotho ex-miners are dying at an alarming rate due to occupational illnesses,” he said.
“Most cases seem to be concentrated in Mohale’s Hoek, Quthing and Qacha’s Nek districts.”
Mr Salae said the awareness and testing campaign was currently only being undertaken in Maseru, Leribe and Mafeteng districts.
“Our intention is to roll it out to the rest of the country in the near future.
“During the campaign, we test the ex-miners for various occupation-related ailments since they are entitled to compensation under South African laws,” said Mr Salae, adding that they also help the patients access the necessary care and treatment.
“In the event that the ex-miners test positive for any of the diseases, we assist them in filling application forms for compensation from the Medical Bureau of Occupational Diseases (MBOD) in Johannesburg.”
He said the process of submitting the occupational compensation claims was strenuous and time consuming due to a backlog at the MBOD, adding that they were working towards speeding up the process.
“Our intention is to expedite the process for the benefit of ex-miners and their families. So far, we have assisted 159 former miners to access M6.5 million as compensation for occupational illness,” Mr Salae said.
“It is important for me to emphasise that the compensation funds go directly into the accounts of the ex-miners or their beneficiaries and not into our coffers.”
He said the difficulty in processing the compensation claims had resulted in the mushrooming of “fly-by-night” agents and associations that claim to negotiate for the ex-miners.
“These unscrupulous, fly-by-night people have found a way of getting around the system to fast-track the processing of the claims,” said Mr Salae.
“After helping the former miners to get the money, the agents then take half of the funds as a charge for their services.
“They also charge for other expenses incurred during the process, such as accommodation and transport.”
He also called for more support from public health centres in identifying causes of death to ensure dependants of people who succumb to occupation-related ailments receive their compensation.
“We would like the public health centres to be more supportive to our cause by conducting post-mortems and not just attribute causes of death to natural causes,” Mr Salae added.
PANEL THIS PART
Ex-miners to receive R500m in silicosis case
FORMER gold miners and relatives of deceased ex-miners in South Africa won their legal battle for compensation on Friday against Anglo American and AngloGold.
The mining companies agreed to pay over R500 million to the victims, with compensation provided to claimants diagnosed with silicosis who worked for either company for at least two years.
A trust, Qhubeka, will be set up under the settlement while a further amount would be paid to assist the trust to enable payment of Occupational Diseases in Mines and Works Act (ODMWA) compensation to claimants who qualified for it.
Anglo American and AngloGold would fund the costs of the trust and the medical evaluations.
The 4 365 claimants sued the mining companies for dust-related lung diseases, silicosis and silicotuberculosis, which they claimed were contracted from working in unsafe conditions in the companies’ mines. The claims were instituted from 2012.
However, the settlement is separate from a silicosis class action suit against the industry currently waiting for the green light to proceed from the Johannesburg High Court. Many of the affected ex-miners come from Lesotho.
To qualify for compensation, claimants would need to be medically diagnosed with silicosis and to have worked on Anglo American or AngloGold mines for at least two years.
The trust would arrange medical evaluations of the claimants locally to determine the existence and severity of silicosis. Payments would be based on a tariff system, reflecting the severity of disease and age of the claimant. Relatives of deceased claimants, who meet the criteria, would also be included.
Since the overall amount of the settlement was a fixed amount, the level of the tariffs would depend on the number of claimants who qualified. – Reuters/Mining weekly.