South Africa: the long campaign for justice for silicosis sufferers
The announcement of a settlement for 4,365 former gold miners in South Africa suffering from silicosis is welcome news. Anglo American South Africa and AngloGold Ashanti have agreed to put up to 464m Rand (approx £21m) into a trust fund to provide compensation for those medically diagnosed with silicosis who worked in a gold mine for either company for at least two years.
The South African National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) has been campaigning for justice for silicosis sufferers for many years. Action for Southern Africa (ACTSA) took up the campaign with the human rights legal firm Leigh Day. And for the past five years, Unite and the London Mining Network have helped the NUM and ACTSA attend the Anglo American AGM in London to raise the issue. Protests have been held outside AGMs and the high court in London, petitions and action cards have been presented, and the ‘golden snail award’ was given to Anglo American for their delay in resolving this issue.
The settlement is positive and welcome news for the ex-gold miners, but it is only a partial victory, only covering a few of those suffering from silicosis, an incurable, debilitating disease which often leads to TB. It does not yet affect the 30,000 ex-gold miners engaged in a separate class action against 31 mining companies.
What is needed is for the mining companies to fully accept their responsibilities and provide a comprehensive industry-wide scheme which provides proper testing for silicosis and decent compensation.
Tens of thousands have literally given their lives for apartheid gold. The black gold miners were treated as cheap and expendable labour. When they could no longer work in the mines and the companies had no further use for them, they were sent back to their homes, often rural areas across South Africa and beyond, ignored and in ill-health.
Legal action and the threat of it has brought about this positive development but so has years of campaigning, mobilising and demonstrating. We made it clear we would not stop until justice for the ex-miners is achieved. The campaign cannot and will not stop until there is a comprehensive settlement for those with silicosis across the gold mining industry of South Africa.
All those ex-gold miners who have or suspect they have silicosis must be able to access independent health testing without delay and those who have silicosis must receive decent compensation. It is not and should not be an act of charity. It is their right, morally and in justice.
So we can celebrate some positive and welcome news but in the time honoured phrase, La Luta Continua!