'We are not toys, we deserve better' former miner says after Silicosis judgment

2016-05-14 16:38
Former Harmony Gold mine workers and TB sufferers Vuyani Dwabube, Matela Hlabathi and Enoch Madindala celebrate outside the Johannesburg High Court following a judgement which enabled them to launch a class action suit against their former employers (Mpho Raborife, News24)

Former Harmony Gold mine workers and TB sufferers Vuyani Dwabube, Matela Hlabathi and Enoch Madindala celebrate outside the Johannesburg High Court following a judgement which enabled them to launch a class action suit against their former employers (Mpho Raborife, News24)

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Johannesburg - Former mine workers suffering from Silicosis or TB believe the High Court ruling in their favour will teach mining companies to value the lives of their employees better.

"The mine employers will now know that the mineworkers are not toys, they are people and they deserve a better life,"  Hendrik Mokoena told reporters on the steps of the Johannesburg High Court on Friday morning.

This was shortly after Deputy Judge President Phineas Mojapelo had handed down a judgment in favour of 69 applicants who wanted to file a class action case against 32 gold mining companies.

The applicants have accused the companies of failing to protect their health and well-being when they were legally bound to do so, this resulted in the workers contracting pulmonary tuberculosis and silicosis - an irreversible and incurable lung disease caused by extensively inhaling silica dust in underground gold mines.

Mokoena, who worked for Gold Fields' Beatrix Gold Mine in Welkom, had his contract at the mine terminated in 2009, two years after he had contracted TB. He was given a settlement of R87 000 and told he would no longer be able to work at the mine.

"How am I going to live on R87 000 at my age because [at the time] I was about 40 something years old,"  Mokoena said.

A breadwinner at home with three dependants, Mokoena said he had struggled sending his eldest daughter to university because of the lack of funds.

After working in a mine for nine years, he said he had luckily found employment with Richard Spoor, the man who had helped numerous former mine workers file affidavits against several mining companies. He said some of these men were not as fortunate.

"Some of them are dead," he said.

"If you go to these informal settlements you find many mine workers there and some of them don't even qualify for a pension grant. When they go to the SA State Security Agency (Sassa) offices, they are told they are still young and that they can still find work."

This was despite the fact that the mining companies had effectively classified them as " disabled" when terminating them.

Seventy-four-year-old Vuyani Dwadube, who worked as a rock driller at one of Harmony Gold's mines said he was happy about the court's judgment.

Dwadube was retrenched in 1995 and found out that he had contracted TB four years later when he went to see a doctor after collapsing.

"Till today I am still not okay, my chest closes up when I walk to or breath to fast and I have to slow down."

The loss of income left Dwadube's family, which is originally from Butterworth in the Eastern Cape, at a disadvantage he said. He was struggling to help pay for his children's school related costs.

One of his biggest disappointments, Dwadube said, was the resistance the mining companies had in dealing with the miners complaints.

 "It disappointed us a lot because we were their employees, we were the ones who brought profits for those mines but when they decided to kick us out they did not have any time for us. That showed us how tough the times were. We are happy to have gotten justice today, we are very thankful.

"It has been difficult for us over the years, we kept trying [to fight for our rights] but kept failing. We lost money along the way from lawyers who claimed they could help us but they ended up disappearing into thin air. Today we got something better and I am thankful" Dwadube said.

Matela Hlabathi, another former employee at Harmony Gold, said on Friday that he had come to court to hear with his own words how the court would rule on the matter.

The 67-year-old father of five said he was happy with the judgment and would inform other former miners when he got back home.

"When I left the mine I was very sick but now the judge has ruled in our favour after all of the struggles we endured.

"I'm going to tell the others and I know that they will also be extremely happy about it." 

Read more on:    harmony gold  |  health

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