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Too few know gold’s heavy price

Written by Thabo Molelekwa

In the land of gold, too few know gold’s deadly price as civil society groups embark on silicosis awareness campaign,

The Mankayi family outside their home near Mthatha, Eastern Cape. They have not received compensation after husband and father Thembekile died after contracting silicosis as a miner

The Mankayi family outside their home near Mthatha, Eastern Cape. They have not received compensation after husband and father Thembekile died after contracting silicosis as a miner

The road from Johannesburg to Phumula in the East Rand is bordered by mine dumps – their terraced, blond-gold soil towering above highways and hostels.

Philile Mahlangu lives in Phumula just 52 kilometres east of Johannesburg – the City of Gold – yet not even she can name the silent killer estimated to take the lives of about four percent of gold miners each year, Attorney Richard Spoor was recently quoted as saying in the Daily Maverick.

Spoor is currently leading a class action suit comprised of miners affected by silicosis and their widows together with the Legal Resource Centre (LRC) and Charles Abrahams.

Age-old killer continues to stalk the mines

Previously known as “miner’s phthisis”, silicosis is a lung disease arising from exposure to silica dust during mining that can appear decades after people are exposed to the dust. About a quarter of long-serving miners are estimated to have the condition, which can make them more vulnerable to tuberculosis, according to statistics cited by the LRC.

The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) is now trying to increase awareness in Gauteng’s townships about silicosis to people like Philile Mahlangu, hoping that the information will filter back to those working on or connected to the country’s gold mines.

According to TAC’s Tshweu Mosedi, many people do not understand how the condition develops – or how to prevent it among family members who may be mine workers.

The American Lung Association has recommended these tips to help prevent silicosis among miners and construction workers who may be exposed to silica:

  • Use a water hose to wet dust before it becomes airborne;
  • Your employer must give you a properly fitted respirator that is specifically designed to protect you from silica dust where water sprays and ventilation may not be able to reduce dust levels. If you wear a respirator, avoid having a beard or mustache that could interfere with the respirator’s fit; and
  • If possible, shower and change into clean clothes before leaving the worksite. This will prevent you from bringing silica into other work areas, your car and your home—and exposing your family and other people to silica.

The TAC is partnering with Sonke Gender Justice and Section27 on the awareness campaign.

The Department of Labour has established the National Programme for the Elimination of Silicosis, which aims to eliminate the condition by 2030 in line with international targets.

About the author

Thabo Molelekwa

Thabo Molelekwa joined OurHealth citizen journalists project in 2013 and went on to become an intern reporter in 2015. Before joining Health-e News, Thabo was a member of the Treatment Action Campaign’s Vosloorus branch. He graduated from the Tshwane University of Technology with a diploma in Computer Systems and started his career at Discovery Health as a claims assessor. In 2016 he was named an International HIV Prevention Reporting Fellow with the International Centre for Journalists and was a finalist in the Discovery Health Journalism Awards competition in 2016 and 2017 respectively. Thabo also completed a feature writing course at the University of Cape Town in 2016. In 2017 he became a News reporter , he is currently managing the Citizen Journalism programme.You can follow him on @molelekwa98

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