A NON-GOVERNMENTAL organisation has alleged that thousands of local ex-miners with occupational lung diseases are at greater risk of contracting Coronavirus (Covid-19) due to their compromised immune systems.
Addressing the media this week, Justice for Miners, Lesotho Chapter co-chairperson Booi Mohapi said ex-miners suffering from silicosis and tuberculosis were more vulnerable to Covid-19. Mr Mohapi claimed that silicosis patients were dying in the country almost every weekend, sparking fears that they were more susceptible to Covid-19 due to their compromised immune system.
urged the health ministry to make health services more accessible to this population group.
“We suspect that people with compromised immune systems due to chronic diseases are vulnerable to contracting Covid-19,” Mr Mohapi said.
“Medical doctors talk of hypertension, diabetes as well as HIV and Aids but they don’t mention silicosis which is one of the chronic diseases. Silicosis patients can never be healed because there is no way a silica dust can be removed from a patient’s lungs, all that remains is for the patient to die.
“So, we are saying that silicosis patients are very vulnerable to Covid-19 and we urge the ministry of health to make health services more accessible so that silicosis patients can have access to medical services and a better chance of fighting for their lives. Silicosis people are dying almost every weekend in Lesotho,” Mr Mohapi said.
He said local ex-miners were dying before getting their share of a M5 billion compensation.
Over 500 000 ex-miners from Lesotho, South Africa, Eswatini, Mozambique and Botswana who contracted silicosis and tuberculosis while working in gold mines in South Africa are still waiting for their compensation more than a year after a landmark out-of-court settlement with six gold mines.
The mines are African Rainbow Minerals, Anglo American South Africa, AngloGold Ashanti, Goldfields, Harmony Gold and Sibanye-Stillwater.
The M5 billion out-of-court settlement was reached after South African Constitutional Court deputy judge president, Phineas Mojapelo, ruled that the ex-miners had a right to pursue a class action against South African gold mines in 2016.
He said that the class action would show that for a decade the mining companies had been promising to assist mineworkers in accessing medical facilities in the rural areas and towns from where they were recruited and returned after being retrenched. However, they had to render such assistance.
The judgement gave birth to a July 2019 landmark out-of-settlement. This led to the formation of Tshiamiso Trust, a company tasked with the disbursement of the M5 billion compensation to ex-miners suffering from silicosis and TB. However, the miners are yet to receive their payouts more than a year after the out-of-court settlement.
Mr Mohapi said the ex-miners were exposed to silica dust allegedly due to negligence which was exacerbated by the mines’ greed for profits and inherent racial discrimination which subjected them to violent and inhumane treatment in South Africa.
“It is against this background that some of the Lesotho civil society organisations joined the Southern African Development Authority (SADC) regional civil societies on 18 November 2020 in Johannesburg to launch the Justice for Miners NGO supported and hosted by the Southern African Resource Watch,” Mr Mohapi said.
He said the Lesotho Chapter of the Justice for Miners was launched in January this year to raise awareness amongst the affected ex-miners and their dependents, Lesotho government and other interested parties about the M5 billion out-of-court settlement.
“We therefore call on the government of Lesotho to be part of the narrative and start robust engagements with their South African counterparts to ensure smooth and speedy payments of ex-miners’ compensations.
“We strongly appeal to Tshiamiso Trust to speed up the process of paying the ex-miners’ compensations before they all die. We advise Tshiamiso Trust to open offices and agencies here in Lesotho where people can make their claims,” Mr Mohapi said.