Letter to the editor

I would like to share some wonderful news. From 1984 to 1998, I spent time in Mafefe in Limpopo, where I conducted research for my PhD.1 The tarring of the roads was the main recommendation of my thesis all those years ago, and this has finally happened. In May this year, it was reported that “In the hope that it would bring an end to the amount of deadly asbestos dust on their streets, residents of former asbestos-mining community Mafefe, have welcomed the construction of part of a road in the town at the cost of R43M”.2 The road to be tarred is an 8 km-stretch of Mafefe’s main street. It is good to know that the complaints from the locals about the harmful effects of asbestos, over the last few decades, have reached the ears of those who can, and are willing to, act. The main advocate against asbestos in the town is Matime Mabeitja. Together, since 1984 Matime and I took on the task of creating awareness around the hazards of asbestos, and it is wonderful to know that Matime has clearly continued to lobby for improved conditions in Mafefe. Another campaigner who deserves a special mention for the role he played is William Tshabalala, who created the asbestos museum outside Mathabatha – a reminder of how we need to keep the story alive so that those affected have recourse to justice.

We all played our part in keeping the issue of asbestos alive – Leah Roodt and Engela Venter from the (now) National Instutute for Occupational Health braved the journey to and from Mafefe, and developed trust with the Mafefe community; the Mafefe Asbestos Health Workers Committee worked tirelessly in collecting data and educating their community about the hazards of asbestos: Prof. Tony Davies and his wife, Diedre, brought money into that community through organising compensation for all those miners with asbestos-related diseases; Jill Murray contributed to diagnosing those with disease and Prof. Albert Solomon shared his radiological knowledge. Many others must also be acknowledged: HIVOS and the AF Leger Trust for funding the field work; Gill Nelson for her epidemiological expertise; Tony Cantrell for keeping the story alive through the Diploma of Occupational Health lectures; Phillip van Niekerk, Carolyn Dempster and Steven Friedman for writing excellent articles that kept the story of asbestos alive in the Rand Daily Mail and The Star newspapers for almost a year; Paul Davies for giving me a platform at a Wits alumni event; and, of course, Barry Castleman for speaking at the Wits Medical School in 1983 about the hazards of asbestos, galvanising myself and Jean-Patrick Leger to do something about the hidden epidemic in Mafefe.

Let us remember Derek Rendall, Jock McCulloch, Dr Sluis-Cremer, Joas Khubai, and two people from the Mafefe Asbestos Health Workers Committee, Type Phiri and William Tshabalala, who worked to highlight the health hazards of asbestos. Sadly, they all died of an asbestos-related disease.

Dr MA Felix

 

REFERENCES

1. Felix MA. Environmental asbestos and respiratory disease in South Africa. PhD thesis. Johannesburg: University of the Witwatersrand,Johannesburg; 1998.

2. Makana C. Hope for Mafefe residents as asbestos road is replaced. News24; 3 May 2018. Available from: https://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/hope-for-mafefe-residents-as-asbestos-road-is-replaced-20180503 (accessed 3 Sep 2018).

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