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WATCH | Forgotten people: Ashbury residents still live under asbestos roofs as Magashule’s case continues

23 February 2022 - 06:04

Elizabeth Vries has lived in a small, derelict house in Ashbury, on the outskirts of Bloemfontein, for the past 30 years. 

While former Free State premier and suspended ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule returned to court for pretrial hearings in the R255m asbestos corruption case, Vries lives under her asbestos roof just 5km away.

A wry smile touches her lips when asked about her thoughts on the trial.

“I’m not one who likes to speak about politics. I feel what’s promised to us should materialise if money has been set out for us who live in these houses under these circumstances. I ask myself, what happens to the money if it disappears? We heard they would come build here. Lots of houses have been rebuilt but we’re sitting and waiting,” she says. 

Magashule, Free State government officials and a group of business people stand accused of benefiting from the tender illegally. The companies allegedly subcontracted other companies to do an asbestos audit and paid them R21m.

The NPA says they pocketed the rest.

“Where does the money go?” Vries asks. 

She says she has been experiencing chest issues since moving into the home. 

“Before I lived here I never had chest problems. I have shortness of breath and I struggle to breathe. At first the doctor said it could be anxiety or an asthma attack, but I told him I live under an asbestos roof. He said that could be the cause,” she says.

It is believed relatively low levels of respirable asbestos fibres can cause pleural plaques and deadly mesothelioma (a form of cancer). Uncontested evidence of disease occurrence has not been published.

Vries says she fears for the future of her children.

Her house stands amid dozens of derelict homes which have asbestos in their roofing, and their residents echo her sentiments of being a forgotten people.

Magashule and his co-accused will return to the Bloemfontein high court for pretrial proceedings on June 10.