Real stories about real people about mining that you didn’t know about.
Mr Clement Shongwe
(Summary of problems encountered: unfair dismissal for unintentional rules breach. This is his account)
Mr Shongwe was unfairly dismissed for unintentionally breaching mine rules.
“We were not supposed to report injuries at work because it would affect the whole group ending up losing their bonuses. When you have been admitted for a long time in hospital, your employer will not treat you the way he used to. He will abuse you. At training centres we were not taught about safety but how to take care ourselves at work, behaviour at work. Before starting work, given a book written in English and were made to read the rules and regulations of the mine. But most of us could neither read nor write in English. We were compelled to sign without allowing us to get assistance in understanding the content of the book. That’s why I was unfairly dismissed because I unintentionally breached some of the rules due to lack of understanding.”
MR Shongwe Ephraim
(summary of problems encountered: injured in line of duty without medical care)
“I worked in a gold mine in Durban from 1970 to 1989 earning 33 cents per day. I then worked in a platinum mine in Koria between 989 to 2001. That is where I was dismissed for injuries. I was using a hammer to break stones. While performing my duties as usually, my back born was completely broken. The mine refused me an accident report to go to hospital. They told me that I was already off-duty. The following day I went to hospital due to the severe pains. I had sleepless nights. I was not given the proper medical attention up until I was advised to go to a medical doctor in Froncrase. I went through an ex-ray and they said I had completely broken bone. They supported my back with pedicle screws. My leg cannot function properly now.
“Since that I could not perform hard labour, the mine company refused to admit that I was injured at work and fabricated lies about my injury to prevent compensation for injury at work. While I thought a white captain from safety department came to my rescue – he called and forced them to sign my accident report – but instead of telling the truth, the story changed again they said I was injured on my neck.
“I still have the pedicle screws in my back and I cannot sleep properly. I can no longer satisfy my wife in bed. Every morning at 2 o’clock I wake up in pain and have a tough time trying to get back to sleep. What is more painful to me now is that the medical doctor said he cannot remove the pedicle screws and referred me to other expensive doctors whom I cannot afford.
“My elder daughter dropped out of college due to lack of tuition fees. The other kids no longer go to school. I cannot afford to pay their school fees. I thank Mduduzi Simelane (Magawugawu) for connecting me with SWAMMIWA.”
(a TB patient who had his lungs filled with gold mine dust sent home to die)
“I started working in gold mines in 1979. I have been diagnosed with TB and have suffered from it a long time ago. Due to the sickness, I was sent packing. The doctors said I have got a sore in my lungs. I never got paid by the mine. I have spent too much money on transport to clinics for medication. TEBA is not helping at all. I have been there for countless times but they did not want me to engage SWAMMIWA to defend my case. They called my wife and asked her whether I was still alive. In the past few months they wanted my bank account and promised to deposit the money in a month’s time but up to now I haven’t received the money.”
Make Doris Dlamini
(a widow from Kukhanyeni inkhundla)
“My husband started to be sick while working at a gold mine in South Africa. It wasn’t long until he started by losing weight and uncontrollable coughing. The in-laws took him to traditional healers and for a short while he was able to return to work. But he later came back home very sick and with an envelope that contains all his work and medical documents. I was not allowed to see the documents. My in-laws took him to hospital and I was not allowed to accompany him. He later died of TB leaving me with a physically disabled 6-month-old baby. All the documents were destroyed (burnt) by the In-laws and I never understood why. Since he died, we have been living in poverty. There was never compensation. I wouldn’t want the same to happen to anyone else. That’s why I can advise mine workers to reveal all the work-related information to their wives.’’
“My husband started working in a South African gold mines in 1952. He kept on changing the mines. In 1988 he was told that he was suffering from TB and he was promised to be paid all his money soon but unfortunately, he could not return to work because of the sickness. In January 1989 the sickness got more severe and I took him to RFM hospital but he never got any better. He was later transferred to a hospital in KwaZulu Natal where a little difference was recorded. Unfortunately, he lived with it until the sickness became worse and he passed away in 2016.”
Make Ncebeleni Shongwe
“My husband came back home with an eye problem. He told me the cause was the dust from the mine. When next he visited, he told me he had TB but I never saw any medication of it. On another visit he told me that he was HIV positive and he showed me the treatment. As if that was all, he came back home again with a chest injury. He said he was injured buy a stone while at work. It was a very serious injury because he would cough substances of blood. At some point, he went back to South Africa for a long time without coming back home. I was later told that he was very sick I should come and fetch him. I went there and found that he bought land and had a home with another woman there. He died there and was buried by the second wife. I was not allowed to attend his funeral. My in-laws lost all the important documents of my husband.”
Local Miners from Havelock Mine
“I started working at Bulembu Havelock mine in 1975 to 2000. We were working with asbestos. Almost all the people I worked with are dead due to cancer (maboya) caused by the dust from the stone. I got sick a long time ago and no one is willing to help us. Even now I am still sick; I can feel severe chest pains. Up to now we have not been paid compensation and are starting to give up.”
“I started working in 1973 at Havelock mine at the laboratory grading the quality of the asbestos whether it was good or bad. We worked in very dusty areas. They later gave us masks to try to protect ourselves from the dust. The mask did not help at all because we were already sick (coughing and having chest pains). They later closed down the mine but we have never got compensation. No one wants to help us. Our friends are already dead and it’s very painful to us and to our families what we have endured there.”