ASSMANG: Staff say nothing has been done about poisonous fumes

2008-02-26 00:00

ANGRY Assmang employees forced their way into a Labour Department inquiry into manganese poisoning in Cato Ridge yesterday.

This was after five people were killed in an explosion at the Cato Ridge Assmang ferromanganese smelter on Sunday.

Wielding knobkieries and carrying a coffin, the group of 100 workers marched from Assmang to the Cato Ridge Country Club where a five-day inquiry was due to begin.

The inquiry is investigating the 40 alleged cases of manganese poisoning, caused by the inhalation of manganese fumes.

The crowd carried an empty coffin, which represented employees who have died, and posters referring to Assmang executive director Bryan Broekman: “Broekman is running out of South African doctors to lie for him”.

Broekman was about to testify when the workers stormed into the hall. The angry crowd demanded that their concerns over the lack of safety and Sunday’s explosion be addressed by management and the Labour Department.

Employees from smelter plants in Vereeniging travelled to Cato Ridge to lend their support.

Joseph Monaheng, a boilermaker previously employed at Samancor Meyerton smelter, said he understands the frustration of the Assmang employees.

“We will stand by them because we know how they feel. I’m angry because management does not care about the people. We are suffering and this doesn’t matter to them.”

Monaheng said those with health problems as a result of manganese poisoning should be compensated.

Sizwe Mkhize, a stores clerk at Assmang, told The Witness that manganese poisoning is not a new issue, but surfaced a decade ago.

“They [management] know that people are dying. The message is clear; management needs to take this seriously. The fumes are killing people,” he said.

Mkhize said Assmang promised employees in 2007 that extraction fans to get rid of fumes and dust would be installed, but this has not been done.

Simon Ndlovu, a metal melter, said he was forced to leave work after his kidneys and legs were affected by the manganese. Ndlovu had worked for the company for 23 years.

“I can’t walk properly, so I’m angry with this whole situation. My life has been a nightmare,”he said.

sharlenep@witness.co.za

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