NUMSA statement on silicosis and Aurora judgements

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa applauds two historic court rulings in favour of super-exploited mineworkers.
Both these long-drawn out cases finally bring some hope of relief and justice to those tens of thousands of workers suffering with terminal diseases and the 5300 Aurora employees deprived without pay for more than five years.
Both stories illustrate the utter barbarity of capitalism, made even worse in the South African mining industry by the racist super-exploitation imposed by colonialism and apartheid.
Workers from all over Southern Africa were forced by poverty and, in South Africa by racist laws which stole their land, to seek work in dangerous and unhealthy conditions, in  the gold, diamond, platinum and coal mines, where they were treated as virtual slaves. Fatal accidents were commonplace and when workers became ill or old they were simply dismissed and left to die in poverty and misery. Their families were left destitute.
17 000 former workers and dependents are now claiming compensation for the effects of silicosis and TB contracted while working in the mines, and the South Gauteng High Court has ruled that they can institute a class action against the mine owners. Human rights lawyer Richard Spoor estimates that the total affected and entitled to claim could be 100 000, and if successful could receive a total of R10 billion.
The Aurora case is an even worse example of not just exploitation but downright theft from workers.  The company, whose directors include President Zuma’s nephew, Khulubuse Zuma, and former president Nelson Mandela’s grandson, Zondwa Mandela, assumed control of the Pamodzi group’s East Rand and Orkney gold mines in 2009 when the previous owners were placed in provisional liquidation.
The Supreme Court of Appeal rejected their appeal against a High Court judgement that Zuma and Mandela had acted recklessly and fraudulently when they assumed control of the Pamodzi assets. The mines were closed, stripped of assets‚ and workers were left stranded, homeless and starving, with no pay for months. 5 000 workers must now be paid their wages amounting to R1.7 billion.
Numsa demands that the two court decisions must now be implemented without any delay and with no further appeals by the employers, so that all the claimants, both the workers and the dependants are paid what they are due. The union further insists that now that a precedent has been created similar cases in future must be settled timeously, without the need for more long legal battles before workers are compensated.
While welcoming these victories, Numsa is also well aware that these cases are the tip of an iceberg of super-exploitation by a white monopoly capitalist system which is based on robbing workers of the surplus value they produce in order to maximise profits.
This inevitably leads to firms taking short cuts in the enforcement of health and safety rules, a danger that increases when bosses outsource and casualise work and use labour brokers, and especially when there are no trade unions to monitor levels of compliance.
That is yet another reason why the formation of the new trade union federation is so urgent. Workers desperately need the protection of unions which will stand up to the employers and insist that health and safety regulations are enforced and to refuse to work if they are not.
These cases also strengthen Numsa’s call for the nationalisation of the entire mining industry, so that the mines can be run for the benefit of society as a whole, without endangering workers’ health and safety, and safeguarding the health of the surrounding communities and the environment.
Irvin Jim, General Secretary of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa – 073 157 6384