Rhodes statue defaced in mining protest
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While discussions on the profitability of the mining industry was under way at the Mining Indaba, activists along with former mineworkers, widows and their daughters gathered at the statue of colonial mining magnate Cecil John Rhodes in the Company's Garden.
Activists defaced Rhodes’s statue, blaming him for introducing laws and practices which continue to bedevil the mining industry in South Africa.
Rhodes introduced the Glen Grey Act in 1894, a labour tax which created the exploitative migrant labour system.
Due to harsh mine conditions many men have suffered and died from silicosis, a lung disease caused by breathing in tiny bits of silica, a mineral that is part of sand, rock, and mineral ores such as quartz.
Tseliso Thulo, 67, from Reeder Park in Welkom worked in mines from 1971 to 2009 and contracted the lung disease a doctor first diagnosed as tuberculosis.
“It starts as TB and at first the mine helped me, but then stopped paying me as they said I was no longer working. I am living with this disease and I am the only one from my town, who worked in the mines, who is still alive,” said Thulo.
He said it hurt him to know that while he and many families suffered, the mining industry giants turned a blind eye.
“I want justice for me, my brothers and the families who had to bury so many young men. They have a responsibility to take care of the men who risked their lives for them and the families left without breadwinners,” said Thulo.
Alice Magala, 24,also from Welkom, said her father’s’ illness meant she had to leave her schooling to care for him before his death in 2014.
"It was difficult to see the strong father slowly fade as this illness took him. In our culture it is not considered normal for a daughter to take care of her ill father, but I had no choice,” said Magala.
Sonke Gender Justice co-founder Dean Peacock said the protest was to give voice to the suffering of the workers, but also the widows and daughters.
“We have been embroiled in a class action suit against the mining industry for their responsibility in regards to this incurable disease. We were granted transmissibility of damages, which would allow the widows and daughters to finally receive compensation from the mining industry,” said Peacock.
He said the industry was planning to appeal against this ruling in the Supreme Court of Appeal.