South Africa's Asbestos Scars
When asbestos multinationals walked away from their operations in South Africa they left scarred communities, polluted landscapes and scores of unrehabilitated mine dumps. Research undertaken by the Government over the last few years has begun to assess the hazards which remain in places such as the Kgalagadi district, Northern Cape. On February 20, 2007 Deputy Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism Ms. Rejoice Mabudafhasi travelled there to see the situation for herself. What she found was widespread and significant contamination caused by asbestos waste and asbestos-containing buidling materials in public facilities such as clinics, churches, police stations, tribal offices, sports fields and schools. Airborne asbestos dust is pervasive and finds its way indoors where it settles on household items, including cooking utensils. Locally there is an epidemic of asbestos-related disease and recently a young researcher has died. Victims of environmental asbestos disease receive no compensation.
Deputy Minister Rejoice Mabudafhasi expressed the Government's determination to work with social partners to deal with this sad legacy:
Plans to counter environmental degradation caused by asbestos fibres will be vigorously pursued by mobilizing NGOs, business and the provincial government to help the affected residents. Addressing the problem would require huge resources and the Dept. of Environmental Affairs and Tourism is exploring various avenues to solicit both capital and human resources to assist provinces to initiate rehabilitations. Furthermore, I would like to appeal to the private sector to come on board to contribute to the collective efforts to rehabilitate the mines and initiate a program to reduce the concentration of asbestos fibres in the atmosphere. Projects involving public private partnerships always deliver impressive results and I would like to see a similar collaboration environmentally changing the lives of Kgalagadi people.1
March 9, 2007