FORMER coal mine workers in KwaZulu-Natal, who are suffering from silicosis, are planning a class-action lawsuit against a company that allegedly forced them to work in unsafe working conditions.
A group of men living in the Verdriet and KwaMdakane rural villages near the small town of Danhauser were once employed at the Durnacol Coal Mine for many years.
While they were working there, they contracted silicosis, a lung disease caused by inhaling mine dust.
They said that the medication that they received at a nearby clinic was all that was keeping them alive.
Thamsanqa Manana, 60, an asthmatic, said he relied on medication and a pump for his chronic illness. He claimed the company failed to provide workers with protective gear.
“I have to constantly endure a hissing and painful cough and heavy chest. I realise I do not have long to live, but before I die, I wish the company would be held to be liable for my suffering,” he said.
Another silicosis victim, who uses a wheelchair, Tau Mokoena, said he contracted a lung disease during his 16 years of employment at Durnacol. Mokoena, who also suffers with arthritis, had been a National Union of Mineworkers shop steward.
He said other prominent people, including President Cyril Ramaphosa, Department of Mineral Resources minister Gwede Mantashe and the late SACP leader Harry Gwala, were also employed at the mine.
“We need to be compensated for our years of suffering. Our dismissal means we won’t be employed elsewhere because we are regarded as a health risk to others,” he said.
The result was that Mokoena was constantly fighting to provide for his family.
Human rights lawyer Richard Spoor has taken up the fight on behalf of the mineworkers.
Thamsanqa Malusi, who works with Spoor, confirmed they were screening both current and former mineworkers across the country. He said they planned to sue 10 mining coal companies and their subsidiaries.
“The plan is to sue the mining companies for pneumoconiosis or black lung disease, that mineworkers contracted,”
Malusi said the affected workers had become catalysts in spreading diseases into their communities.
Malusi added that they were also in a legal battle with the Sasol Group, which was at an advanced stage, and they planned to challenge the Anglo Group and Exxaro (formerly known as Kumba Resources) in the near future.