Mr James Ebang and his family live just outside Batlharos in the northern Cape. Mr Ebang worked with asbestos. He worked for KCB, Kuruman Cape Blue Mines.
Now James Ebang is dying a slow, painful death. He is dying from a lung disease because he worked with asbestos.
“My lungs seem as if they close up if I walk too fast,” says Mr Ebang. “I cannot carry or pick up anything. I suffer from shortness of breath. I also have pains in my joints so that I feel weak.”
“This man wasn’t like this before,” says Mrs Ebang. “He is very weak now compared to the time we got married. He was a strong man. Now he is a skeleton. You can see yourself. He is not a man. He is finished. He wasn’t like this. He was a big, strong healthy man, beautiful and attractive.”
Question: What were conditions on the mines like?
Mr Ebang: It was very dusty. I worked sewing bags and at the weighing scales. I had no protection.
Question: What about your friends and workmates. Do any of them have problems like this?
Mr Ebang: Others have died already. The ones I worked with died a long time ago.
Question: What did they die from?
Mr Ebang: Lung diseases.
Question: How many friends have died from lung diseases?
Mrs Ebang: My two uncles. The one is Adam, the .other was Oudbooi and Assagai. They all died of the same disease.
Mr Ebang: Another one was Tenjas Kabebele. All dead.
Question: How much compensation money do you get ?
Mr Ebang: 41 rands-every three months.
Question. What can you buy with the money?
Mr Ebang: Only mealie meal. A sack of mealie meal and a little coffee and then its finished. After that I beg other people for help.
Question: How does your family live with so little money?
Mrs Ebang: We cannot live like this. We go hungry all the time and we have no clothes to wear. I have four children here and they don’t go to school because I have no money to pay school fees. The children suffer. They have no soap for washing, no blankets. I keep on mending their clothes like an old woman.
When he worked, we got lots more. Now we have nothing. I cannot go to work because he gets ill a lot. He gets feverish at night. Then I’ve got to help him sit up because he nearly chokes. He cannot stay by himself. This is my loss.
Question: Has anyone from KCB come to visit or help since he got sick?
Mr Ebang: No.
Mrs Ebang: They have never put their feet here. I feel heartsore. They do not help me in any way. I feel sad and bitter. If he dies, I won’t be able to bury him because I do not have money. I will have to bury him in a sack.
(This story comes from a film called ‘Dust to Dust’ made in 1981 ).