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Lawyer takes mining industry to task

The silicosis epidemic is the largest and longest running industrial disaster in modern history.

The silicosis epidemic is the largest and longest running industrial disaster in modern history. Picture: Taurai Maduna/EWN.

CAPE TOWN - Human rights lawyer Richard Spoor believes the mining industry needs to do more to ensure the safety of its workers.

Spoor has launched the largest class action in South African history on behalf of about 18,000 former miners.

He is seeking compensation for miners who have died from silicosis which they contracted while drilling gold-bearing rocks.

However, some mining houses are not prepared to discuss the matter.

Spoor told the Redi Tlhabi Show that the lawsuit is necessary and the situation is dire.

"The silicosis epidemic is the largest and longest running industrial disaster in modern history. It's been running for well over 100 years and in that period hundreds of thousands of mine workers in gold mines in particular have been disabled and have died as a result of this illness."

Spore says the problem dates back to the apartheid era.

"Apartheid was about the supply of cheap and expendable labour to the gold mines. That was the idea that underpinned the whole notion of grand apartheid and what we have is generations of mine workers supplying Lesotho, Mozambique, the Eastern Cape coming to the mines as young healthy men and leaving after 10,15, 20 years broken, damaged, diseased and often in coffins."

Spore also says not much has changed for the miners post-1994.

"The situation has persisted all these years because there are no consequences to the employers of killing nameless workers. There are no criminal consequences, there are no civil consequences. As a result this disaster has just kept going."

He says the mining companies and government acknowledge that there is a problem but no one is willing to take responsibility.

The mining industry believes the government should take some responsibility as it created the labour laws.