Workers’ Lives Sacrificed For Profits

Workers’ lives sacrificed for profits

Mziwakhe Hlangani

Debilitating manganese poisoning is devastating workers at manganese producer Assmang in the scenic and peaceful hills of Cato Ridge in KwaZulu-Natal. Last year Simon Miya was summarily dismissed for incapacity after suffering dizzy spells and headaches. Miya, a former foreman, apparently fell near the burning furnace. He was later medically boarded after Numsa shop stewards followed up his case through private medical practitioners who declared him unfit to work due to advanced manganese toxicity.Miya, aged 49, is now disabled. His nervous system is severely damaged and he suffers from complete mental breakdown and short memory. He desperately looks forward to the day when the government will force the company to offer “just and fair compensation” to the affected workers in order to care for their families.”For the past few years, I have suffered mixed emotions after realising that I should expect to die at anytime because of the disease,” says Miya. “At the time of my dismissal I felt that Assmang is a place where the lives of mostly black people are cheap, but I found that a few white supervisors were also affected,” he said.Dismissed former shift foreman for 33 years Brian Anderson told of his harrowing experience at the hands of management. “They all claimed that I faked my short memory and temperamental outbursts,” he said.After he went berserk and attacked a presiding officer in his own dismissal hearing because he did not know what was happening to him, they acknowledged he was sick. His back pain, physical disabilities and loss of balance have reduced him at the age of 54 to a pale-looking old man in his late 90s. He supports his wife and three children. He only draws a R9 000 monthly pension from the Workmen’s Compensation Commissioner. Anderson often wakes up screaming, and when this happens he loses his mind in what has been described by doctors as post-traumatic mental and stress disorder. 13 years into the new democratic dispensation, Thandokwazi Mbanjwa, who is also suffering from manganese poisoning says, “I never realized that Assmang would still be allowed to cream off profits and leave behind people dying of diseases attributed to its negligence without paying compensation to its workers.” Mbanjwa now lives with his wife, six children and grandchildren, and survives on his government compensation.Sicknesses and deaths of this nature were common in Cato Ridge and surrounding areas where the majority of Assmang employees were exposed to high quantities of fumes and manganese dust. However the cause of death was never related to manganese toxicity.As Numsa News went to print, the public inquiry into the illnesses had been suspended. Parties (the employer and Numsa legal teams) were meeting to discuss the possible causes of the incidents of manganism at the Cato Ridge factory, ways to remedy and prevent further cases and to try and agree on ex gratia assistance and support to affected employees.

Workers say:”I was issued with a helmet, boots, ear protection but never issued with any respirators or similar equipment or personal protective equipment for the 33 years I was working.”I was not informed by management of the risks and hazards or any information of manganese toxicity.” Brian Anderson, 54 years old, production shift foreman at Assmang for 33 years (crusher plant for 10 years and 23 years at the furnaces). Diagnosed with manganese toxicity and currently receiving compensation from Coida.”A dust mask was given but I was not forced to use the mask. I was not aware of the manganese.” M Ngcobo, more than 30 years service. 11 years in the crusher plant, 19 years as a stoker in the furnaces, last employed as a tractor driver/all rounder. Diagnosed with manganese toxicity and currently receiving compensation from Coida.

Occupational hygienists say:”The total dust levels which include manganese were too high. We suggested that in some areas they should give their workers respiratory protection as an interim solution because the measures that we suggested which cost millions would have taken time to implement.” Harold Gayze, occupational hygienist from Occutech giving evidence at the public inquiry into workers’ exposure to manganese. Occutech assessed risk at Assmang between 1995 and 2001.

“After observing the process, I noticed that even though I was given a new 3M double cartridge mask, the dust and manganese fumes from the furnace began burning my throat. Furthermore I then experienced an irritation to my chest and subsequently began coughing. I have normal lung function and do not suffer from asthma. “The staff during the tapping process were surrounded by so much dust and fumes that they were difficult to distinguish in the haze. To date, the mechanical extraction ventilation system is still non-existent and this must have serious consequences on the employees’ health. Report from BW Randolph, occupational hygienist after an inspection at Assmang March 30 2007

Symptoms of manganismӢ difficulty walking or balancingӢ weakness or cramps in the legsӢ hoarseness of the voiceӢ blinding headachesӢ trouble with memory and judgementӢ unstable emotions or irritabilityӢ poor coordination, shaking or tremors of the arms and legs

Workers with symptoms:* 40 current employees

* 6 ex-employees

Confirmed manganese toxicity cases5 employees

If you know anyone who worked at Assmang (used to be called Ferralloys) in Cato Ridge and may be suffering from manganese poisoning, get them to contact their nearest Numsa office.Symptoms of manganese poisoning:

difficulty walking or balancing
weakness or cramps in the legs
hoarseness of the voice
blinding headaches
trouble with memory and judgement
unstable emotions or irritability
poor coordination, shaking or tremors of the arms and legs

Izimpilo zabasebenzi zenziwa umnikelo ngenxa yenzaloAbasebenzi e-Assmang ezintabeni ezinokuthula zase-Cato Ridge KwaZulu-Natali zibulawa ushevu wemanganisi.Nakuba basebexwayisiwe osompilo emsebenzini ukuthi amazinga othuli efektri aphezulu kakhulu, abaphathi behluleka ukudlulisela lesi sexwayiso kubasebenzi, futhi ababanikanga amamaski okuvimbela uthuli.I-Numsa seyizama ukuthola isinxephezelo esengeziwe enkampanini salabo basebenzi abathintekayo kanye nemindeni yabo.

Uma kukhona umuntu omaziyo owasebenza e-Assmang (eyayibizwa ngokuthi i-Ferralloys) e-Cato Ridge futhi okungenzeka ukuthi baguliswa ushevu wemanganisi, batshele ukuthi mabathinte ihhovisi eliseduze le-Numsa.

Werkers se lewens opgeoffer ter wille van profytWerkers by Assmang in die vreedsame heuwels van Cato Ridge in KwaZulu-Natal is besig om aan mangaanvergiftiging te sterf.Ten spyte daarvan dat beroepshigií«niste gewaarsku het dat stofvlakke in die fabriek te hoog is, het die bestuur nie hierdie boodskap aan die werkers oorgedra nie; nog minder het hulle werkers van stofmaskers voorsien.Numsa probeer nou om ekstra vergoeding by die maatskappy te beding vir die werkers wat geaffekteer is, asook hulle gesinne. AS jy van enigiemand weet wat by Assmang (vroeí«r bekend as Ferralloys) in Cato Ridge gewerk het en moontlik aan mangaanvergiftiging lei, moet jy hulle aanraai om hulle naaste Numsa-kantoor te skakel.

Ho etswa sehlabelo ka maphelo a basebetsi bakeng sa diprofitiBasebetsi ba Assmang maralleng a kgutsitseng a Cato Ridge mane KwaZulu Natal ba hlokahala ka baka la tjhefo ya manganese.Le ha ba ile ba lemoswa ke ditsebi tsa bophelo bo botle mosebetsing hore lerole fekethering eo le lengata haholo, batsamaisi ba ile ba hloleha fetisetsa temoso ena basebetsing, mme hape ba ile ba hloleha le ho ba neha di-mask tsa lerole.Numsa jwale e leka ho fumana ditlhapiso tse eketsehileng ho tswa khampaning bakeng sa basebetsi ba amehileng le ba malapa a bona. Haebe o tseba mang kapa mang ya neng a sebetsa Assmang (e pejana e neng e tsejwa ka Ferralloys) mane Cato Ridge, mme motho eo a kula ka baka la ho kenwa ke tjhefo ya manganese, e re a iteanye le ba ofisi e haufi le yena ya Numsa.