Bizana is a vast area with miles of countryside and dirt roads that seem to peter out to nothing before turning a corner into another small village. Many people live a long way from shops, clinics and schools and are used to the long journey by foot or by taxi. It’s easy to see how healthcare is costly to access and why many people cannot obtain the treatment that they need.
We are spending 3 days now in Bizana, because the area is so big. We have no idea where a few of the miners are but we hope to be able to ask around and with a bit of luck we will find them.
Tekeza Joseph Mdukisa was diagnosed with silicosis at the time he was being retrenched after 28 years working at Western Deep Levels Mine. He was 49 years old and they paid him R36,000 (approx. $2,600 or £1,730) and sent him home.
“I was illiterate and so I wanted to make enough money for my children to be educated. Now I am home I cannot afford to pay for my children, who have passed grade 12, to go on to further education… I am now teaching my children to plough the fields.”
Mzawubalalekwa Diya, 60 years old, fell sick in 2003 when he was working at Goldfields Mine. He was coughing up blood and admitted to hospital. He was retrenched 2 years later and was never given the results of his exit medical examination. When a law firm took him for an x-ray it was discovered that he had silicosis. After 27 years of service at the mine he did not receive any compensation. His wife, Macetshwayo, now supports them by working as a cook at the local school.
Mzawubalalekwa was part of a traditional singing group called Abavukizi (Gold Diggers) who used to write and perform on their days off. When a group of workers were trapped underground, they wrote a song to celebrate and thank the mine for the rescue operation.
Mzawubalalekwa Diya sings a song he wrote celebrating the rescuing of trapped miners and thanking his bosses.
Malungisa Thole worked at Western Areas Mine for 19 years and was paid no compensation when he developed silicosis. In his spare time he taught himself to weld and now supports his family with his small welding business.
“I feel very sad because I worked for the mines, making profit for them but they treated me unfairly by not providing good protective measures.”