Living on the edge

Asbestos-relief activists have warned the Limpopo government not to go ahead with plans to develop a township on old asbestos mining fields.

The Penge area, near Burgersfort, has been found to be contaminated with asbestos, which causes lung cancer, and unfit for human habitation. But Limpopo’s department of local government and housing has already approved the development of an existing informal settlement into a formal township. About 250 families, most of whom worked at Penge mine, live in the shack settlement, which is located in and around former mining operations.

Asbestos Relief Trust spokesperson Tina da Cruz said: ‘If the department does not consult widely about developing the area, the health of thousands will be put at risk. This development needs to be thoroughly reviewed and debated in public.”

The trust and the Kgalagadi Relief Trust — which deal with occupational and environmental health claims by people who fall ill after exposure to asbestos in former mining areas — are challenging the Penge development (see sidebar).

Their concerns are backed by a report compiled five months ago by Steven Donohue, former principal specialist in the department of community health at the University of Limpopo. He found that the area is extensively polluted and unsuitable for habitation.

Donohue said the asbestos mine dumps were not properly rehabilitated after the mine’s closure. He has also criticised the local government department’s assessment of the area.

‘The report does not appreciate that new building and repairs to infrastructure will inevitably disturb large amounts of asbestos waste and pose an increased threat to both residents and workers,” said Donohue.

He recommended that all residents of the informal settlement be moved and the existing buildings demolished, ‘otherwise people living in Penge could make legal claims against the state to compensate for asbestos-related diseases”.

Local government and housing spokesperson Clayson Monyela said Donohue’s recommendations would be taken into consideration, but that development in the area would not be stopped. ‘We will consider the report and its recommendations, but service delivery has to continue … because people are already living in the area,” said Monyela. — African Eye News Service

The good fight

The Asbestos Relief Trust came about because of an out-of-court settlement in 2003 in which asbestos-producing companies Msauli, Gencor, Gefco and lawyers representing workers agreed that R460million should be set aside to compensate people who had fallen ill after working on mines in Mpumalanga, Limpopo and the Northern Cape.

The trust’s formation also followed a court victory by about 7 000 asbestos victims who worked for Cape Plc. Cape Plc’s employees set a precedent by forcing the company to pay R97million in 2001 to compensate workers and relatives of workers who had died from asbestos-related diseases.

This precedent led to the formation of the Kgalagadi Relief Trust to help workers at the group’s asbestos mines at Kuruman and Danielskuil in the Northern Cape between 1952 and 1981.

To date, the Asbestos Relief Trust has paid out R94,1million, while claims to the tune of R10million are still pending. The Kgalagadi Relief Trust has paid out R5,3million to claimants and has claims to the value R1,2million outstanding. — African Eye News Service

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