SABC News - Will 2016 see an end to the silicosis battle? :Saturday 26 December 2015

Will 2016 see an end to the silicosis battle?

Saturday 26 December 2015 17:50

Manqoba Mchunu

Silicosis is caused by inhaling particles of silica dust - created by rock drilling which scars the lungs.(SABC)

The year 2015 saw one of the biggest civil claims against a strategic sector of the country's economy. About 56 miners took their bosses to court for exposing them to a deadly lung disease, silicosis, in a legal battle dubbed a David versus Goliath case.

South Africa's gold mine industry is a pillar of the economy, raking in billions. The gold is trapped in the bowels of the earth up to four thousand meters deep.

Poor migrant labourers in search of a better life are those who have to extract it and are exposed to life-threatening dangers daily. Many have lost their lives underground and even for the survivors, years of gold digging come at a cost.

Silicosis is caused by inhaling particles of silica dust - created by rock drilling which scars the lungs. According to John Stephen from advocacy group Section 27, "The mining companies knew about this for at least 110 years and they watched these men going underground and let them do so knowingly that they were going they are going literally to their graves."

Those suffering want justice and redress and are taking 32 gold mines to court. However first, they want the cased to be recognised as a collective suit. If successful, this could be the biggest civil suit ever brought against the South African mining industry. The once silent voices of the miners will resonate through this high court precinct.

The 56 miners represent a much bigger group, mostly from rural Eastern Cape, all dismissed after falling sick. Families of those who have already died are part of the litigation.

However, gold mines want the cases heard individually. According to Allan Fine, a representative of Gold Mines, "It's not in anyone's interest to spend hundreds of millions of rand and 10 to 20 years in court dealing with this issue. We are hoping to find a fair solution but none that is also sustainable for the industry."

If the gold companies get their way it will be a blow to miners. They will have to get lawyers to fight for compensation individually. With an estimated 200 000 miners suffering from silicosis, the case is likely to drag on for years.

It will only be clear in 2016 if the matter will be heard as a single suit. This is a nail biting wait for those slowly dying from the disease.

Related Articles: Mining Health Challenges, by sabcnewsonline

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