The true cost of gold: TB in miners
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.