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AngloGold Ashanti, AngloAmerican and other mining companies: mining workers suffer from health consequences of working in mines for years

Human Rights Violations in Lesotho

Working in mines can have enduring after-effects on workers’ health. Mining workers work deep underground for many years, often without sufficient protection. Recently, a growing number of gold miners in Lesotho complained about health problems. They inhaled silica dust from gold-bearing rocks and later contracted silicosis, a lung disease which causes shortness of breath, a persistent cough and chest pains. It also makes people highly susceptible to the mortal disease tuberculosis.

In 2006, Thembekile Mankayi, who came from South Africa’s impoverished Eastern Cape Province, lodged a civil claim against AngloGold. He sought 2.6 million South African rand ($319,000) in damages, loss of earnings, medical bills, pain and suffering caused by silicosis and related tuberculosis allegedly contracted while he was working underground at AngloGold’s Vaal Reefs mine, 150 km southwest of Johannesburg, between 1979 and 1995. The case reached the Constitutional Court, the highest in the country. But Mankayi died just days before it finished its deliberations in March 2011. The judges did not rule on his claim.

More than a dozen former miners interviewed in Lesotho said they had never received protective kit such as face-masks in the mines. “The only safety gear they gave us was gloves”, said 55-year-old Tele Nchaka, who used to work for Gold Fields for 33 years. Nchaka said he and his colleagues “were never made aware of the dangers of the dust.”

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