With reference to the ongoing Manganese Ore Dust Pollution saga at the Port of Port Elizabeth we need to be completely fair and also identify more of the other players in this sorry chain of co-joined ‘almost criminals’ ignoring the health of workers and citizens exposed to the potential harmful effects of inhaling manganese ore dust.
The media adage of “If it bleeds it leads” comes to mind as the detrimental effects of manganism are not quite that ‘spectacular’ – it takes a long time for the effects of exposure to become apparent.
In January 2013 Tony Carnie (2006 Vodacom journalist of the Year) writing for the Mercury Newspaper reported:
SCORES of factory workers shuffled into a large hall in Cato Ridge in February 2007, anxious to tell the government inspectors how their bodies and brains had been crippled, allegedly from working in clouds of toxic manganese dust.
They were looking for “justice” and had high expectations of getting a fair hearing.
But, nearly six years down the line, they are still waiting for the government to tell them whether their old company has a criminal case to answer – or whether it deserves to be punished.
Back in early 2007, when the Labour Department began a formal public inquiry into health and working conditions at the factory, former Assmang foreman Joshua Haarhof recalled that he was a healthy 40-year-old family man when he started working at the massive manganese smelting works in Cato Ridge 14 years previously.
Now he was permanently brain-damaged, impotent, battling to walk, battling to sleep and battling to keep control of his twitching hands and shaky limbs.
Within just a few years of joining Assmang his health began to deteriorate and, by the age of 52, he had started walking with a crutch.
His colleague, Donny du Plessis, told the inquiry there were times when the dust levels were so thick workers could not see their hands in front of their faces and his throat burned when he breathed in the manganese furnace fumes.
“You would go home black and dirty every day. You had to blow your nose all the time to get rid of that black stuff inside,” Du Plessis told the inquiry.
At the age of 45, less than six years after joining the company, he was declared unfit for work and medically boarded because of disabilities deemed to be the result of exposure to toxic manganese dust.
One of the youngest workers to lose his job was Vissi Naicker who was medically boarded with manganism at the age of 34.
Medical specialists employed by the company accepted that at least nine colleagues were suffering from “manganism”, an occupational disease similar to Parkinson’s disease. Scores of other workers had also been classified with “suspected manganism”.
Full Article: Still waiting for answers.
In October 2013 independent Lawyer Richard Spoor said that he was “working with” African Rainbow Minerals (ARM) on alleged infection of workers at the Cato Ridge facilities of Assmang, in which ARM is a joint venture partner.
A September 2015 article by GROUNDUP stated that some of the top companies on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) were flouting environmental laws and not telling their shareholders, according to a study by the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER).
African Rainbow Minerals (ARM) failed to respond to questions from the CER about the high number of applications for authorisation of activities which it had already started. Over four years, says the CER, the company paid fines for starting activities without environmental authorisation “on at least seven occasions”. This is a criminal offence. Environmental management inspectors found “significant uncontrolled dust emissions, containing heavy metal manganese”, “serious non-compliance with a hazardous waste site permit”, and “at least one unpermitted waste site” at African Rainbow Minerals’ Assmang plant in Cato Ridge – findings which CEO Mike Schmidt said “do not, in and of themselves, reveal environmental non-performance”.
According to the Industrial Health Resource Group (IHRG) of the University of Cape Town the department of labour has refused to hand over findings into an inquiry of the 10 cases of manganese poisoning at the Assmang manganese smelter in Cato Ridge in April 2007.
In September 2009 Assmang was accused of having “gambled” with workers lives by failing to act when warned that the company boiler was likely to explode. This came out during a formal inquiry in Pietermaritzburg by the labour department into the massive explosion of a furnace at the Assmang plant on February 24, 2008 which claimed six lives. Workers’ attorney Richard Spoor said Assmang general manager Princess Thwala had ignored warnings from a firm of consultants that the boiler was likely to explode if water leaks were not sorted out.
Until the start of this decade, the manganese sector was dominated by two giants, Samancor and Assmang. These white-owned companies sat atop the best deposits in the industry and they were mainly low-cost, open-cast operations. These two companies continue their activities following BEE deals and still account for most of the production.
SA mining billionaire Desmond G. Sacco’s family controls R31.78bn Assore Limited, one of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange’s Top 40 listings. Assore holds 50% of Assmang under the Chairmanship of Sacco. The Assmang company is a joint venture with African Rainbow Minerals (ARM) headed up by influential, well-connected black mining entrepreneur Patrice Motsepe. ARM also operates joint ventures with Anglo American Platinum, Glencore, Impala Platinum, and Vale. Max Sisulu serves on the board of ARM. Sisulu is the former Speaker of the National Assembly of South Africa. He is a member of the National Executive Committee of the ANC and serves on its National Working Committee (NWC) and on its Finance committee.
Before he returned to politics, the Deputy President of the ruling ANC political party, Cyril Ramaphosa, served on the Assore board of directors (resigned August 2011). His company, Shanduka, was introduced as Assore’s Black Economic Empowerment partner in 2005. An initial investment of R280m was cashed in six years later for R2,7bn.
In August 2009 ASSMANG denied a report that it would consider disinvesting in SA if the government compelled it to adopt strict controls on hazardous dust. A spokesperson for the firm said the company is not considering any such thing.
Looking deeper into this seemingly straight forward delivery of Manganese Ore to Port Elizabeth for loading onto ships one relaises that theree are bigger fish at play here – people with huge capital operating from fancy clean offices in Illovo, Sandton and abroad with a vested interest in ensuring that their selfish wants are taken care of ahead of the citizens of Port Elizabeth – Sacco, Ramaphosa, Motsepe, Sisulu and all the other big fish need to come to their senses before the Manganese will move.
Sure the Manganese Ore Terminal makes a lot of money for the TNPA but one realises now that the real money is being made by people directing and placing pressure on the Port of Port Elizabeth to continue providing this service.