File photo: Crosses at a koppie the Marikana massacre.

Pretoria - They all worked for the same mining company and they all died on the same day. But among the group of 34 fallen Marikana mineworkers, some suffered from a deadly disease that would have eventually left them unable to breathe.

New research by Jim Philips, a visiting professor at the University of Johannesburg’s faculty of health sciences, has found that seven showed evidence of exposure to silica dust. Of this group, three men had pulmonary silicosis – a respiratory disease caused by exposure to silicosis and common in miners who also suffer from TB.

And like many mineworkers, the men probably never even knew they were sick. Silicosis – caused by exposure to silica dust in the gold mines – remains largely undiagnosed.

“Seven of the 34 mine workers had concentric fibrosis in the lymph glands; three also had pulmonary silicosis,” said Philips, who conducted research on the autopsy findings in the lungs of the deceased miners. “Silicotic nodules in the lymph glands are indicative of exposure to gold dust, most probably during previous employment in the gold mines.”

His research has revealed how two of the Marikana mineworkers had inactive pulmonary TB and another had bilharzia in his lung. Bilharzia was a biological indicator of poor social conditions and highlights the inadequate living conditions of migrant platinum miners, he explained.

The most important finding of his research, released yesterday and published in the most recent issue of Occupational Health SA, was that many men working in the platinum mines have previously worked in gold mines. “This has been labelled cross-recruitment and is considered to be one of the drivers – with HIV infection – of the rising prevalence of tuberculosis in the platinum mines.”

But it was the migrant labour system that compounded the health and economic burden of these workers – 31 of the 34 were migrant labourers. One of the migrants was a contract worker. “This worker had significant lung disease due to exposure to silica dust.

“Although a small group, these 34 mineworkers provide some insight into the health of workers employed on platinum mines in SA,” he said, recommending that platinum mines need to introduce carefully designed screening and surveillance programmes for workers previously exposed to silica dust.

Richard Spoor, an attorney who is preparing a class action lawsuit against the gold mining industry on behalf of as many as 200 000 mine workers, was unsurprised by the research.

“This is entirely consistent with what we know: that a lot of former gold miners – the rock drillers – have moved over to the platinum industry due to the growth of the platinum industry and the decline of the gold mining industry.”

”All these people are at serious risk of developing TB and are quite capable of spreading TB to their families, in their homes in labour supplying areas, or in the townships where they live. They contribute to the epidemic of TB.”

Proper urban planning was essential to address these public health hazards, but in Rustenburg, there was uncontrolled rampant urbanisation.


Thabiso Thakali reports that Mathabang Ntshenyeho led a group of women – mostly widows and relatives of the Marikana miners killed in 2012 – in a silent protest to the SABC on the eve of the second anniversary to the day her husband’s life was violently cut at the age of 42.

Far from her home in Sasolburg, she said: “I may be broken and still in pain but I want the world to know what happened on that day.”

Clutching papers with nearly 3 000 signatures obtained through a petition to get the public broadcaster and e-tv to air Rehad Desai’s Marikana documentary, Miners Shot Down, Mathabang said it was about time everyone knew the “truth”.

The petition was delivered to the broadcasters’ offices yesterday.

Another widow, Matsepang Ntsoele whose husband, Molefi was among the 34 miners killed in Marikana, said she believed it could help many people understand the events of two years ago.


Matsepang added it was important for the broadcasters to show they were impartial by showing the documentary without fear of favour.

SABC spokesman Kaizer Kganyago said as far as he had been aware, the documentary had not been submitted to the broadcaster.

Pretoria News Weekend