According to a recent article in the Africa Free Press, tens of thousands of South Africans are currently suffering from asbestos-related diseases.
The article notes that most of the victims hail from small Northern Cape towns, where asbestos mines were the top employer for decades. Though mining companies knew about the dangers of asbestos as early as the 1920s, work in South Africa’s many asbestos mines continued until the mid-1980s. Every year, says the article, many former miners are diagnosed with mesothelioma or asbestosis.
The article also notes that foreign-owned mining companies have, during the past six years, paid out tens of millions of dollars in settlements from which an estimated 10,000 South African victims of asbestos mining have benefited thus far.
Dr. Gideon Smith of the small town of Prieska told the Africa Free Press that he diagnoses approximately five to ten cases per year in his community of about 20,000 residents.
“Every time somebody comes to me with a lung ailment, the first thought is asbestos. It is almost always the case,” said Smith.
Studies note that asbestos-related diseases in Northern Cape mining areas affect as much as 50 percent of the population in these small towns. Yet, says the article, piles of raw asbestos fibers are still dumped and left uncovered, while rehabilitation work has yet to be done on several mine dumps that continue to threaten communities around them.
“Some secondary roads in the province contain asbestos fibers visible to the naked eye, and many schools and homes in towns like Prieska still have asbestos in their frames,” the article points out.
“If this was Europe, huge areas would have to be evacuated. They are not safe for people to live in,” said lawyer Richard Spoor, who has represented dozens of asbestos-related disease sufferers in court.