Asbestos Ban in South Africa! 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



South Africa is to ban the manufacture and new use of asbestos according to an announcement made on June 21, 2004, by Environment Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk.1 Speaking at a Parliamentary press briefing, the Minister explained: “For certain products where no current alternatives are available we will allow for a three-to five-year phasing out period.” The ban will be promulgated by legislation due before Parliament by the end of the year.

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), which has been campaigning for an asbestos ban for many years, welcomed the Government's decision. Speaking to journalists in Cape Town, NUM spokesperson Fred Gona highlighted the need for a speedy transition to non-asbestos technology by commercial organizations and the importance of vigorous enforcement of the new prohibitions by government agencies. Many NUM members have died from asbestos-related diseases contracted through employment in the asbestos mining and manufacturing sectors.

Unfortunately the ban will not address health problems caused by widespread environmental asbestos pollution; in the Northern Cape and North West, where asbestos was mined and processed, thousands of people continue to experience hazardous exposures from the mountains of asbestos waste which dominate their communities and the asbestos contamination of local houses, roads and open spaces. Tenders for a study of environmental pollution in asbestos hotspots are being evaluated by Minister Schalkwyk's department. Other means of reducing secondary pollution, such as the rehabilitation of derelict mines, waste dumps and asbestos buildings, are being considered.

In recent years, South African businesses, such as Everite, have begun manufacturing asbestos-free products such as the Nutec range of cement products which replace asbestos with wood fiber. “They've seen the writing on the wall and have been phasing out asbestos for years,” said Peter Lukey, Chief Director of Regulatory Service at Environment Affairs.

The news of the ban by South Africa, Zimbabwe's largest trading partner, will not be welcomed by Zimbabwe which depends on the foreign currency its asbestos industry earns; the future of the country's major asbestos group: Shabanie & Mashaba Mines, already struggling with serious financial difficulties, the destruction by fire of one of its conveyor systems and the flight of its owner Mutumwa Mawere from Zimbabwe police, looks very bleak indeed.

June 24, 2004


1 Products for which the new use of asbestos will be prohibited include: oxyacetylene cylinders, some seals and gaskets and brake linings, according to The Director-General of the Environmental Affairs and Tourism Ministry.



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