Court’s lifeline comes too late for former mineworker

2011-03-05 17:24

He died a painful, sad death. A poor man seemingly abandoned after contracting a deadly disease while working in the ­bowels of the earth.

Thembekile Mankayi (51) worked as a miner for AngloGold Ashanti, and contracted silicosis and pulmonary tuberculosis.In 2004 the company paid him a settlement of R16 320 because he could no longer work.

Four years later, when he sued AngoGold in the South Gauteng High Court for R2.6 million, the case was thrown out of court.

Last Friday his illness caught up with him, but eight days later the Constitutional Court handed Mankayi and thousands of his ­fellow mineworkers a lifeline when it ruled that they could in fact sue their employers.

In a groundbreaking, unanimous ruling, the court granted sick former miners the right to sue mine bosses for occupational diseases under common law.

Judge Sisi Khampepe ruled that former mineworkers could institute legal claims against their ­employers even though they were covered by the Occupational ­Diseases in Mines and Works Act.

The court dismissed with costs AngloGold’s argument that Mankayi had no right to sue ­because he was covered under the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act.

Speaking on behalf of the bereaved family, Johnson Mankayi, Thembekile’s younger brother, said the news of the court victory had brought a sense of closure.

“Even though we are disappointed at the loss of my brother after the long battle he fought, we are satisfied with the ruling ­because it is what my brother had been fighting for,” Johnson said.

His mother, 92-year-old Nowinile, was not as forgiving.

“He died a very sad man. Ever since he got sick, he had been in and out of hospitals, coughing non-stop and having problems breathing.

It is sad that my son died just a week before his battle was successful,” she said.

Nozuzile Mankayi, Thembekile’s wife, said it was her ­husband’s dream to send their 10 children to school.

The ruling means the local mining industry could again face ­potential liabilities and scores of legal claims from aggrieved ­victims of occupational diseases nearly a decade after it lost R700?million in settlements with former miners who had ­contracted asbestosis while on duty.

Mankayi’s lawyer, Richard Spoor, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

But he did say this week that he was putting together a class action on behalf of former mineworkers, ­focusing on Lesotho and ­Transkei, “and taking on the big gold-mining companies”.

AngloGold Ashanti said it was still studying the judgment, but stressed it would “defend (Mankayi’s) case on its merits” if it went to court.

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