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The true cost of gold: TB in miners

August 24, 2009

Last week I wrote an article regarding TB in South African gold mineworkers for the country’s Mail & Guardian newspaper. My research brought me to some of the world’s top TB and occupational health researchers and activists, all of whom are frighteningly alarmed about the state of gold miners lungs within the region. I stumbled upon study after study concerning high rates of TB within this work force, the effects of which are compounded by the industry and government’s unwillingness to pay for and administer compensation for miners and families of miners permanently impacted by poor health. For the hundreds of thousands of primarily black, poor men suffering from work-related TB and other occupational diseases, such lack of accountability and mismanagement is disastrous: these men have worked all their lives and offered their health to the gold-mining industry, only to be rejected by complicated coils of government bureaucracy and under-funding by the mining companies that have put their lives at risk.

In many ways, this can be seen as specifically a South African problem: and in some ways, we wouldn’t be wrong to peg it that way. The South African government made the legislation concerning both mine safety and occupational health compensation, and they are the ones primarily responsible for holding the companies accountable. But the core of the problem comes not from government mismanagement or companies’ greed—both of which, unfortunately, can be expected the world over and will take decades to centuries to change—but from the product itself. As they have since it’s first production, people are dying in droves for gold. These deaths are preventable, not only through dust prevention and better air ventilation in the mines themselves, but through the discontinued use of this non-essential product. People are dying for wedding rings and lockets and bracelets; and us, as Canadians, a country that consumes much of this product, must be aware of the true cost of such a luxury. Through not paying compensation and addressing the perils of these workers, government and the mining companies have not only succeeded in forgotten these workers, but have successfully helped us to forget them as well.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. marakardasnelson permalink*
    August 27, 2009 6:58 pm

    I agree to a certain extent, or at least in theory, that people can, will and do get fatigued from too many “sad stories” from social marketing on issues of conflict resources and the many inequalities inherent in the production of luxuries that we use on a day to day basis. But even though some social marketing has been done on issues like blood diamonds and coffee, as you point out, people still consume these products with nearly the same frequency as they did before the onset of these campaigns. The campaigns are just that–ads. They are flashy, 30 second spots on TV or posters that whiz by you on the sides of buses. They don’t show the true impact of the production of these resources, nor do they offer a constant reminder of the labour involved in their production. Unfortunately no social marketing campaign could effectively and continuously show these effects, and so I am skeptical of their effectiveness in reaching beyond a certain, relatively small and already socially conscious community. But barring constant invasion into people’s homes of pictures of miners lungs or child soldiers from resource-related wars, I think that social marketing does begin to spread the word on these issues. And so I suppose, without being able to offer a better idea to put on the table, they’re an excellent start. Hopefully we’ll see more messages about gold-mineworkers’ exploitation in the near future.

  2. nmboudin permalink*
    August 27, 2009 5:53 pm

    Hi Maraka,

    Thanks for a well-written and revelatory post. It is sad that a lot of what the middle class enjoys is linked to socially oppressive practices and environmental irresponsibility.

    Due to a well planned information campaign and some social-status pressure, the truth came out about blood diamonds, and ethically gotten gems increased in status. This social engineering spread to coffee.

    Sadly, due to the overwhelming amount of news about how our addictions and status symbols are causing hurt, I am worried that people may get “guilt fatigued.” Can marketing effect social change?

  3. reneethewriter permalink
    August 25, 2009 9:08 am

    Thank you for your research – we don’t get enough of these kinds of perspectives – good to read of your work here.

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