‘€™Life with silicosis’€™

Blom spent 16 years of his life searching for gold at Anglo-American’€™s President Steyn mine, in the bustling town of Welkom in the Free State Province. Today he has very little to show for his labour ‘€“ instead he is ill and frail.

‘€œI left the mine because I was told that I had silicosis. I was told that it is incurable. Now, I can’€™t be employed anywhere. I don’€™t know what to do. As I’€™m talking to you, I have pains in the chest’€, he says, showing signs of struggling to breathe.

Asked whether he was aware of the occupational hazards while he was working underground, Blom replies:  

‘€œWe (miners) did not know anything. However, we could feel the discomfort in our chests when we breathed in this dust. By the way, that dust is combined with smoke from explosives. So, whenever you breathed, you felt pain’€, he says.

Blom claims that the mine made no attempt to offer any protection. Miners made use of make-shift masks to protect themselves from the dust they were inhaling underground.

‘€œTo protect ourselves underground, we stole bandages and we would cover our noses’€, he says, gesturing with his hands.

‘€œOnly shift bosses wore masks, yet they went in and out in the shortest time. But, we were not given any’€, he continues.  

Retired professor in lung diseases Tony Davies, who has spent time with the ex-miner, says ‘€œsilicosis is an incurable, debilitating and fatal occupational lung disease caused by the inhalation of crystalline silica dust, which is very common in the mines. After some time, the disease makes it difficult for victims to perform any work that requires strength’€, says Professor Tony Davies, a retired academic expert in lung disease, who had examined Blom.

‘€œThey (victims) need muscles to thatch the house, to put up poles and fill them in with mud. They have to use their muscles for all sorts of things’€, he says.

‘€œAnd many of the miners will tell you that they ‘€˜feel sorry for their wives’€™, because their wives do things which they used to do and that ‘€˜it’€™s not fair to the wives’€™’€, says Davies.

Blom says he feels betrayed by his former employer, Anglo-American South Africa Ltd.

‘€œI have been hurt by that company and yet it is not helping me in any way. Instead, help is coming from people that never employed me. That company has abandoned me. My heart is broken’€, he says.


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