Uranium Company Accused of “Killing Communities” in South Africa
water Story 222

Uranium Company Accused of “Killing Communities” in South Africa

"Children play in sand contaminated by radioactive mine waste."
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John Ahni Schertow
March 8, 2009
 

The Toronto-based mining company, Uranium One—who’s “operations have been made possible with backing from the Canadian Embassy and CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency) in South Africa”—stands accused of human rights abuses and the systemic violation of workers rights at the Dominion Reefs Uranium mine in South Africa. The Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board also has millions of dollars invested in the company.

In her article, “One deadly reputation: Canadian company accused of ‘killing communities,’” Tanya Roberts-Davis examines the case against Uranium One.

She says workers at the mine report a long list of human rights and workers’ rights violations, and that the entire local population may be living on their deathbed.

In October 2008 the company’s entire workforce went on strike to demand better working conditions.

Among several concerns, they say Uranium one denied them access to protective gear while working in the uranium mine, saying they had nothing more than overalls.

Now they suffer from a wide range of health problems, including cancer, asthma, and tuberculosis. In addition four women have miscarried, and at least 12 workers have died since the mine opened in 2004.

During the strike, they also called on Uranium One to reinstate their colleagues, a group of democratically-elected representatives who organized a local protest against the company’s conduct two months earlier.

Following that protest, Uranium One declared the organizers “medically unfit” and dismissed them.

Sadly, that was to be the fate of the entire workforce. Uranium One responded to the strike by firing every single worker – a total of 1400 people.

Currently, “a minimal temporary workforce of allegedly underpaid migrant workers has been hired to keep the mine in a functioning state,” says Davis.

Now, Uranium One will most likely try to wash their hands of the mine by dumping it onto another company, or by closing it down for good.

While they maybe be able to walk away like it’s ‘just another day at the office’ – the workers and their families don’t have such luxury. They can do nothing but wait…

Meanwhile, they find themselves living in poverty, “surrounded by open mine shafts, sinkholes, mine tailings and mounds of rotting garbage,” says Davis.

“Discussing the community’s sense of dispossession, Tahlita, a community organizer from the local group ‘Justice and Peace,’ stated, “We don’t have electricity or water services, our houses are very cracked, and there are no jobs here. We want work, but we want our health also. In the past, we had land for our children. Now we don’t have anything. The mine has taken our land and contaminated our water.””

“The trickle of water from the one functioning tap in the community has a distinct yellow tinge and sickening odour,” Davis adds.

“Meanwhile, the suffocating effects of radioactive tailings dust blowing across the 14,000 hectare area leased by Uranium One are exacerbated during the frequent exploratory mine blasting being conducted by Uranium One’s subcontractors. Eye irritations and severe cases of asthma are common amongst children and adults and many have festering rashes discolouring their entire bodies.”

“Despite the fact that sinkholes and open shafts pose a specific danger to children, Uranium One has done nothing more than erect a small number of warning signs in some residential areas.”

“Parental concerns about this situation became a heart wrenching reality in November 2008 when a ten year old boy, known in the community for his creative dance and musical skills as well as good academic achievements, slipped accidentally into an open mine pit filled with radioactive waste water and drowned.”

“Now an outspoken critic of the mine, this boy’s mother declared, “For the sake of our children and the future, they must close up all the pits in the area, cover up the places where dangerous materials are, and clean up the entire area so that it is a proper living place for a community.”

Lesago, a fellow organizer from Justice and Peace, adds: “Uranium One needs to resettle the entire community to a place where we can at least start our lives again. Our lives are in danger as the water and vegetables here are not suitable for our health [due to heavy metal contamination]….”

“When you see this injustice, you have to react; you have to make your voice heard. As a parent, I am doing this work for my child’s sake and for everyone’s children here.”

Take Action

To support the workers, their families, and everyone else living in the region, please send a letter to Uranium One, urging them to negotiate with workers and provide compensation that offers dignity and justice.

Also write to the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, The Canadian Embassy and the Canadian International Development Agency in South Africa.

A list of contacts and sample letters can be found at foe.org.au.

Photos from: www.groundwork.org.za

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