Who Does Silicosis Affect?
According to a 2009 study by the University of Witwatersrand and University College, London, there are approximately 288,000 cases of compensable silicosis in South Africa involving former gold miners who have contracted silicosis as a direct result of their work.
Additional research has shown that approximately 20 to 30 percent of former and current gold miners contracted silicosis because of their exposure to harmful quantities of dust underground. These and other similar studies show the same pattern—staggering numbers of miners, families and communities injured over decades and decades because of the mining industry’s neglect.
The overwhelming majority of former gold miners are from areas historically known for supplying migratory labour to locations, including the Eastern Cape, Lesotho, Mozambique and Botswana. These areas are characterized by poverty and under-development. The Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory’s website quotes Padraig O’Malley’s The Hope of Hope – South Africa’s Transition from Apartheid to Democracy as saying, “The connection between the mining industry and the establishment of the migrant labour system is a historically accepted fact. The detrimental consequences of the system on migrant labourers and their families, as well as the rural communities from which they are recruited, are well documented and are an irrefutable historical fact.”
Although those most significantly affected by the silicosis epidemic are the miners, their families and the communities in which they live, it cannot be denied that this problem additionally has had, and continues to have, tremendous implications on the political, social and economic health of South Africa.