Workers plan to sue for radiation damage

21 August 2016 - 02:00 By LUTHO MTONGANA and LUCKY BIYASE

Daniel Sibisi, who worked at East Rand Gold and Uranium's treatment plant in Gauteng for most of his adult life, is one of a growing number of people employed there to have fallen ill years later - and who are now seeking compensation from its former owners, including Anglo American. Sibisi began working at the plant when it opened some 40 years ago, when he was just 18. He is now almost bedridden, and blames his deteriorating health on exposure to gamma rays .For 27 years, Sibisi operated a machine that separated gold particles from other materials at the plant near KwaThema, east of Johannesburg.Now, the 58-year-old father of three has to rely on his wife Thembi to help him to get up, dress and walk out of their bedroom."At least now he manages to walk a bit in the house and is sometimes able to feed himself. Before that he was wallowing in bed and couldn't move the entire day," says Thembi.She says sometimes she has to borrow money from relatives and neighbours to get medication for her husband."I pay it back when we receive his R1,500 grant. The medication that makes him better is not available at the local clinic and government hospital. I have to go to the chemist. The situation is very bad and his former colleagues complain of several other illnesses."story_article_left1The plant, whose ownership has changed hands three times in the past four decades, now lies abandoned - and according to experts remains highly radioactive, posing a danger to local residents and any scavengers of scrap.Just up the road from Sibisi's home lives a former colleague at the plant, Hosea Morera, 76, who is increasingly worried about Sibisi's fast-deteriorating health - and his own."I used to visit him to see how he was doing. But now I am myself unable to walk anymore. I am also now feeling the effects of the disease. I can't move my feet anymore. They say it is radiation and I don't really know what that means," says Morera, who cuts a lonely figure in his house, paging through old newspapers.The two are among 400 men and women who claim to have chronic radiation syndrome - which has similar symptoms to the infamous silicosis - as a result of mining operations at the slimes dams.The group cite coughing, chest pains, an itchy body and skin rash.Every fortnight, they sit together and plot how to get their former employers held accountable for their sickness.Anglo American sold the plant to its one-time subsidiary, AngloGold Ashanti, in 1998. Africa's biggest gold miner sold the mine to DRDGold nine years later."Before, we would fill up this entire place. Now we are almost less than half of the people who come to this meeting for a report-back on our campaign to get at least compensation. Most of us have died and others are too weak to come here," says Sipho Shongwe, who is co-ordinating the group of victims, who include beneficiaries of the deceased."We are trying to get pro bono lawyers to assist us. Some people have already lost hope because this has been going on forever," say Shongwe.The group say that once they got sick they were abandoned by DRDGold, left to fall back on government grants.DRDGold is adamant that it is not responsible.In a response to queries sent by Business Times, CEO Neil Pretorius said the mining company had not bought the East Rand Gold and Uranium operation as a going concern - and therefore its employees had not been transferred to DRDGold."All workers would have been retrenched or redeployed by [AngloGold Ashanti] and any claims that may have arisen at the time would be against the company for whom they worked - the former [East Rand Gold and Uranium] or AGA," he said.story_article_right2AngloGold, which owned the operation between 1998 and 2007, said it did not believe any employee had had "significant" exposure to any industrial chemical or had developed an occupational illness as a result.The plant "fully complied with the necessary requirements", the mining house said.Anglo American said although it had shares in East Rand Gold and Uranium , "... it never operated or owned the operation where [East Rand Gold and Uranium' s] employees worked".Both AngloGold and its former parent, Anglo American, said they could not comment on a possible legal claim as nothing has been brought before them.Former East Rand Gold and Uranium employees are hoping to institute legal proceedings against the owners of the plant in a separate case to the silicosis action against a host of South Africa's leading gold-mining companies.The mining houses, which include the likes of Gold Fields and Harmony, and lawyers representing the victims are locked in a class action law suit for damages. The companies are appealing the certification of the class action.mtonganal@sundaytimes.co.za; biyasel@sundaytimes.co.za..

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