Sick miner appeals to Anglo for help

A South African miner who claims he contracted tuberculosis as a result of digging gold on behalf of Anglo American used the FTSE 100 company’s annual meeting last week to demand compensation.

Daniel Seabata Thakamakau (66) represented more than 1 200 former miners who are suing Anglo American for allegedly failing to provide protection from dangerous levels of dust created by deep-level gold mining between the 1960s and 1990s. He asked the board for medical support and compensation for the workers.

‘River of disease’
The miners claim that Anglo American South Africa, a subsidiary of the United Kingdom-listed parent company, is responsible for them developing silicosis, an incurable lung disease that often leads to tuberculosis. The condition, similar to asbestosis, has been described by South African mining medical expert Professor Tony Davis as a ‘river of disease flowing out of the South African gold mines”.

Leigh Day, the law firm representing the miners, many of whom cannot read and write and who signed up for the class action with a thumb print, said the number of claimants could rise to tens of thousands and a potential payout could amount to hundreds of millions of pounds.

Anglo denies any liability and says that it was only a minority owner of the mines and does not currently have any stake in them. It is also disputing the right of the miners to bring the case to the high court in London, because the case is against its subsidiary, whose headquarters is in South Africa. A decision on the jurisdiction of the case is expected on May 9.

Pleading with the CEO
Before the meeting, Thakamakau, who started mining gold when he was 19, said he would ask Cynthia Carroll, Anglo American’s chief executive, to ‘find it in her heart to support the miners and our families and continue to support our families when we are dead”.

‘While Anglo became rich from the work that we did on their mines, we are now suffering. I have no money and I cannot afford to get medical treatment. All we are asking is for the company to provide medical assistance and our fair compensation.”

He claimed that, less than 15 minutes after explosions were set off underground, he would be sent into the dust-filled tunnels without any respiratory protection. ‘One day I complained about the amount of dust to the foreman, who called the white boss. He said: ‘Do the job or go home.’ I continued to work as there was no other option to provide for my family.”

Thakamakau, who was paid R1 000 a month, said he was one of the lucky ones, despite finding it difficult to breathe because his chest was ‘always burning”. ‘Three of my five close friends from the mine have already died from the condition,” he said. ‘About 70% to 80% of families in my area are headed by women because the men have died, often as a result of mining.”

Thakamakau, who spoke through a translator, said Carroll’s £2.2-million pay package last year ‘shows that they can afford to help”.

Richard Meeran, of Leigh Day, said three out of 18 claimants in a separate legal action in South Africa had already died from the condition. ‘Anglo have examined the other 15 and five were hospitalised immediately,” he said.

Preferential treatment
Meeran said the company recruited hundreds of thousands of labourers from South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana and Malawi. He claimed that white managers were rarely sent down deep mineshafts and were provided with considerably more respiratory protection than their black colleagues.

He said the threat of silicosis, particularly from gold mining, had been ‘known for a century” and claimed the miners were the victims of a ‘flagrant disregard for the health of black workers”.

A spokesman for Anglo said, although the company contended it was not in ‘any way liable” for the claims, it had the ‘deepest sympathy” for those miners who contracted silicosis.

‘Anglo American’s absolute priority has always been to ensure that our people return home safe and well at the end of every working day and working lifetime. Anglo American does not believe it is any way liable for the silicosis claims brought by former gold workers and is defending the actions.”—

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