Over two decades into democracy, thousands of ex-gold miners are suffering from silicosis without the compensation, testing and care they need. We are calling on Anglo American and all the companies that made their fortunes from apartheid gold to pay up now.
Under apartheid, mining was South Africa's biggest industry. Hundreds of thousands of miners worked underground in appalling conditions, digging for gold. Production levels were high, and profits were prioritised over the safety of its workers. Black miners undertook the dustiest jobs, and protective measures were often not provided.
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What is silicosis?
Silicosis is a lung disease caused by prolonged or intensive exposure to silica dust in underground gold mines. It decreases lung capacity, making it difficult to breathe, and it massively increases the risk of TB. The combination of silicosis and TB is often fatal.
How many people are affected?
Over many decades, hundreds of thousands of miners worked underground at Anglo mines in South Africa. It is estimated that at least tens of thousands of miners are suffering from silicosis.
Do they receive treatment?
Unfortunately, there is no cure and no specific treatment for silicosis. But it is essential that medical care is provided for diagnosis and to treat ancillary diseases such as TB, the risk of which is greatly increased in silicosis sufferers. Yet, for most former miners, medical facilities are not available.
Why is Anglo American responsible?
Anglo American was the largest gold miner in South Africa throughout the 20th century. Black miners at Anglo American’s South African mines undertook the dustiest jobs, unprotected by respirators. A series of published studies over the past decade reveals silicosis rates of around 25 per cent in long-term miners, including among miners at Anglo American mines.
What should Anglo American do?
Anglo American should live up to its CSR promises and take urgent steps to provide decent compensation (the statutory scheme is inadequate and inaccessible) and improve the medical services for the thousands of miners formerly employed on Anglo's South African gold mines who are suffering from silicosis and their families.