For women, the bodies come home, the extraction continues


A report came out today that considers the compensation system for occupational lung disease in South Africa’s mines. The compensation system mirrors the mining industry in that it brutalizes the mostly male Black work force and, equally and systemically, the mostly female Black mining communities `back home.’

According to the report, the system is one hundred years old, and in a hundred years, not much has changed. Mineworkers still come primarily from the Eastern Cape, and from Swaziland, Lesotho, Botswana, and Mozambique. Mine work in South Africa is “particularly risky,” which, given mining conditions elsewhere, is saying something. South Africa `boasts’ the world’s deepest gold mines, and the orebodies are extraordinarily narrow. As a result, miners face high rates of exposure to silica dust every single day.  While the compensation for those who suffer silicosis is no longer formally skewed towards White mineworkers, effectively it still disenfranchises Black mineworkers. Much of the reason for this is the lack of access those mineworkers have once they go back home. Thus the sinister impact of geographical employment patterns continues more or less unabated a full century later, and twenty years into the new South Africa.

Much of the compensation falls under the Occupational Diseases in Mines and Works Act, or ODIMWA, passed in 1973. Despite some fifteen rounds of amendment since 1973, not much has changed. The status quo has a particular fate in store for women:

ODIMWA’s autopsy provision for deceased workers effectively puts compensation out of reach for already disadvantaged claimants, such as migrants, women, and blacks. If autopsy remains a route to compensation, it should be more accessible and better explained. If a mineworker or former mineworker was not diagnosed with a compensable disease while alive, survivor claimants can only receive compensation by submitting the deceased’s cardiorespiratory organs to the DOH for autopsy. This requirement can prove a major hardship. Organ removal is inconsistent with various claimant communities’ cultural beliefs. For instance, some southern African customs exclude widows from decision-making, which can include providing medical consent, during a bereavement period following husbands’ deaths. As a result, using autopsies to determine eligibility disadvantages female survivors, especially those from certain African ethnic groups. In addition, logistical shortcomings, such as unequal distribution of government-issued autopsy organ collection boxes, make it challenging for black survivors to apply. These barriers are also high for survivors of migrant workers, as the South African government does not distribute autopsy equipment in other countries. Moreover, many survivors are not even aware of the autopsy option.”

Women are the survivors, and women in mining communities, which are often quite distant from the mines, discover, in the niceties of autopsy provisions, that, for those who labor the mine, there is no dignity in labor, and, for their survivors, there is no dignity in death. The bodies come home, the debts and demands pile up, the extraction continues.


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About Dan Moshenberg

Dan Moshenberg is an organizer educator who has worked with various social movements in the United States and South Africa. Find him on Twitter at @danwibg.