A civil society anti-graft organisation is calling for greater openness in the mining industry to curb corruption and mismanagement. Photographer: Armand Hough/African News Agency(ANA)

Cape Town - The cries of ailing miners were heard at the Investing in African Mining Indaba earlier this week during a ceremony in honour of those who have died of silicosis and tuberculosis (TB) in the country’s gold mines.

Philemon Mkhatshwa’s face started to swell when he spoke to the Weekend Argus at the Cape Town International Convention Centre.

The 61-year-old former miner says this is a regular occurrence and that his face and legs swell at random times, making it difficult for him to walk and speak.

Due to a lack of finances Mkhatshwa has not been able to see a doctor for a diagnosis for his condition, but he is certain of other ailments such as silicosis and TB.

He said he only received compensation for TB in 1978, despite suffering other illnesses picked up during his two decades of working in gold mines.

“I started working at mines in 1974 as a drill operator, I did this for more than 10 years. In 1977, I contracted TB but I got a small payout in 1978 then I had to go back down underground and that is when I developed silicosis,” said the father of three.

“Any form of compensation would be good for us, we are unable to eat suitable foods for our conditions and most importantly we can’t get the medical care we need.

“We are destined for death.”

Similarly, Lesole Moleko, 69, spent most of his life moving from mine to mine.  

The now hard-of-hearing grandfather has been left destitute with nothing to show for the 46 years he spent underground.

He spent 12 hours a day, every day, underground, working as either a loco driver or as a load haul dump operator.

He left his lifelong job after he was retrenched in 2016 due to old age but has never received any compensation for any of the injuries suffered while on duty.

“I started working when I was 18. When I asked about the long service payout I was told I would get R1300.

“So little for so many hours of my life,” said the soft-spoken man.

Moleko struggles to put food on the table, let alone cover his medical expenses for illnesses and injuries contracted while underground.

“I was on TB treatment for six months in 2010 but I am not sure if I have silicosis or not because I have not had any medicals done since then.

“I suffer severe chest pains and sometimes struggle to breathe,” he said.

Moleko developed loss of hearing in his right ear as well as lower back pain from operating heavy machinery.

“I had an injury on the job but was never compensated for it and I was never taken for proper medical care.

“I feel like my kidneys are giving in but I don’t have any medical records from the mines to give to a doctor to see what happened to me down there.”

Moleko and Mkhatshwa are just two of the many thousands of former gold miners who suffer from silicosis and TB who have been denied the necessary medical screening, health care and compensation they deserve.

Silicosis is a lung disease caused by prolonged exposure to silica dust.

It decreases lung capacity, making it difficult to breathe and massively increases the risk of TB.

Weekend Argus