‘Toxic fumes killed 191 workers’

Hundreds of sick and dying Eastern Cape workers are preparing to launch a class action against steel manufacturing corporation, Scaw.

Lawyers representing former employees of the now-defunct Dimbaza Foundries have lodged papers at the Gauteng High Court on behalf of 400 former employees of Scaw Metals Group.

A court date is expected to be decided on next month, Saturday Dispatch was told.

Workers say 191 of colleagues at the foundry have died since it closed, while more than 200 are seriously ill with dread diseases caused by Manganism, the name given to those who suffer chronic exposure to toxic manganese.

In a further allegation, the workers claim that since they started agitating for compensation, Scaw has returned to the defunct Dimbaza foundries building and have stripped the site of metal.

Workers accused the company of trying to remove evidence.

Scaw Metals spokeswoman, Dudu Ndlovu, speaking late yesterday, said they were not aware of the class action “We will make further enquiries and determine the nature of the action before we can respond,” she said.

“The demolishing is being done in terms of the decommissioning authorisation issued by the Eastern Cape department of economic development, environment affairs and tourism. It’s done in compliance with the law.”

According to Scaw’s website, they are an international group, manufacturing a diverse range of steel products at key operations in South Africa, Australian and smaller presence in Namibia, Zimbabwe and Zambia. The Industrial Development Corporate (IDC) is the majority shareholder. The IDC’s website states: “We are owned by the South African government”.

The workers’ notice was lodged by Karlien Botma Attorneys on behalf of the applicant Gcinikhaya Nxitywa, a former employee of Scaw Metals’ Dimbaza plant. This week lawyers for Scaw announced that they intended to defend the action.

Speaking to the Saturday Dispatch this week, Nxitywa said he was fighting for the victims he claimed died after inhaling fumes in the Dimbaza metal plant, giving rise to killer diseases, such as silicosis, lung cancer, cebro vascular attack and extra-pulmonary tuberculosis (TB).

Nxitywa said many workers suffered illnesses caused by exposure to manganese and other metals.

He said more than 60 women were widowed when their husbands who worked in that firm died.

“There was no one to fight for them as the widows were never employees of Scaw Metals.

“My brothers are dying every day because they inhaled the fumes from that factory and that led to their premature deaths. Many left children and today many women are widows. We have to stand up and fight this company to compensate those who are suffering,” said Nxitywa.

“This is a fight of David against Goliath but the truth will prevail, we won’t suffer in silence. This week alone we are burying two former employees and last week it was the same. More than 200 of us who worked there have died.”

Botma yesterday confirmed that she was representing the applicants.

“We can confirm that we’ve taken this matter to court for a notice of motion and we are representing about 400 former employees.

“Scaw Metals said they will defend this matter and we are waiting for a new court date by January,” said Botma.

Between 2000 and 2011, 138 Scaw Metals Group employees who worked at the Dimbaza Foundries plant, have reportedly died while a further 54 died since the factory closed its doors in 2011. According to Nxitywa, 12 have died since July last year to date.

“This firm has destroyed our lives,” he said.

The Dimbaza plant, which manufactured steel for mining and other projects around the globe, mostly employed workers from Dimbaza township and areas surrounding King William’s Town.

Nxitywa is a former crane operator who worked at the factory for more than 10 years.

Another former employee is Vuyisile Martin. Martin said the firm was stripped bare and demolished after Dispatch published its first story in July last year.

Another employee, Aaron Macanda, said the company came to destroy people’s lives in Dimbaza.

“What is worse, they denied that the illnesses people suffered was because of the work we were doing there. They say they died from natural causes while postmortems says it’s because of illnesses they got from that firm,” said Macanda.

The court document, seen by the Dispatch said Nxitywa, who is the applicant, intends to ask the court to allow the applicant to institute a class action under section 38(c) of the constitution, or alternatively under the common law as the representatives of former workers of Dimbaza Foundries (Pty) Ltd against the respondent.

The court document noted that, the following persons may be joined in a class action:

lFormer workers who suffered from illnesses related to exposure to manganese dust, and who worked at the Dimbaza Foundries at any time since establishment until December 2011 who would form part of the first class of applicants; and

lThe dependants of the former Dimbaza Foundries workers who died as a result of Manganese exposure would form part of the second class of applicants.

“It is declared that the applicant have the requisite locus standing to bring the class action and represent the members of the first and second class in claims for damages sustained as a result of the contracting of manganism during their employment at Dimbaza Foundries (Pty) Ltd,” read the court papers.