• Eastern Cape Rising Sun

Historic victory for miners with silicosis and TB

When Bangumzi Balakisi (65) of eNgqushwa (Peddie) heard that he will be receiving compensation, the first thing he thought of buying is ‘time’.

He is one of thousands of miners diagnosed with silicosis and tuberculosis after working in the Gauteng mines from 1965 to date. Silicosis is a lung fibrosis caused by the inhalation of dust and there is no cure.

Last week, the Johannesburg High Court approved the settlement of the silicosis and tuberculosis class action suit between several mining giants and former miners, represented by various private law firms and the Legal Resources Centre.

The historic judgement will provide meaningful compensation and justice for miners, although some have long succumbed to the diseases, broke and broken. Balakisi plans to consult specialists in order to stabilise his conditions so he can live long enough to see his grandchildren.

He tells the story of migrant labours who left their homes in the Eastern Cape to contribute to an industry that has, over the last 130 years, been the biggest driver of the economy, at the expense of the health of many breadwinners. They left their homes as healthy, ambitious youngsters and returned broke, bitter and victims of the shameful legacy of gold mining, as painfully narrated in the book Broke and Broken by award winning journalist Lucas Ledwaba and photographer, Leon Sadiki. Ngqushwa-born Balakisi left his rural home at the age of 20 in 1974 to work at the gold mines through Teba, a recruitment company established more than a century ago to connect mines with workers. “I was so scared but I knew I had to be a man and go work for my family. We were living under abject poverty, with no food to eat,” recalls Balakisi from the village of Pikoli. He worked as a basic worker and graduated to mine assistant when he was diagnosed with both tuberculosis and silicosis in 1999 while working in Randfontein.

He earned a measly R800 a month when he fell sick and was retrenched with a R28 000 package in his 40s. “This was way smaller than what I had expected and it was problematic because I was still young and my health made me feel like I was in my 80s,” he said.

The 65-year old had a wife and four children to take care of, medical expenses and an ailing body that gave up on a daily basis, making it impossible to get formal employment. Since then, he worked as a bakkie driver, transporting locals from his village to town as well farming goats for sale, to educate his children. In the last few years, he has been receiving a disability grant. Meanwhile, he has been on treatment from the local hospital. “My health has been getting worse everyday and it pained me to know that we made billions for white people and they discarded us without taking responsibility for many of us who are suffering from the same killer diseases,” he said.

He was one of the first people in 2010 to get a lawyer in Johannesburg to make sure that mining companies pay them for their hard work and its consequences. “I am happy about this victory, but I will be happier when I have the money in my hand. All I can do with it is to prolong my years on earth so I can see my children and their children grow up to be better than me,” said an emotional Balakisi.

Compensation amounts will vary from R70 000 to half a million depending on the medical examinations of the miners concerned. Dependants of those that are deceased will receive payment. The settlement money will be put into the Tshiamiso Trust which will administer claims and payments to eligible claimants. It will also track and trace class members, process all submitted claims, including the undertaking of benefit medical examinations and the payment of benefits to eligible claimants.

All parties are pleased at the conclusion of these highly complex negotiations and hope that the agreement will be duly approved by the High Court.

All parties recognise the constructive approach of their negotiation partners during the process, according to a joint statement by the legal team of all mineworkers.

Bangumzi Balakisi (65) of eNgqushwa (Peddie) is among the beneficiaries of the historic settlement.


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