Parliamentary Asbestos Summit


28 January 2003
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Meeting Summary

A summary of this committee meeting is not yet available.

Meeting report

28 January 2003

Ms G Mahlangu-Nkabinde

Documents handed out:
Address by Environmental Affairs Deputy Minister (Appendix 1)
Presentation by Department of Environment Affairs and Tourism
Submission by Department of Health
Submission by Occupational and Environmental Health Research Unit, UCT (OEHRU)
Presentation by Department of Health, Zimbabwe

The following documents are awaited and will be available here shortly:
Submission by Group 5
Submission by Environmental Justice Network Forum

The public hearing was a follow up to the summit on asbestos, which was hosted in 1998. The Committee heard submissions on the effects of asbestos in South Africa and Zimbabwe and progress on resolutions made by various government departments, NGO's, affected communities, and business sectors at the summit. The Committee would call a joint meeting of all parliamentary committees affected by the process of managing asbestos after the hearings. The recommendations of the joint committees would then be submitted to the Cabinet for their decision on the matter.

The Chair welcomed everyone to the hearings and requested them to introduce themselves and the organisations they represent. She applauded Ms Elize Swart from the DME for the work she has done in ensuring that the first summit took place. She thereafter asked the Deputy Minister DEAT, Ms RT Mabudafhasi to welcome the Zimbabwean delegation to the summit.

Opening Remarks by Deputy Minister of DEAT
Ms Mabudafhasi welcomed the Zimbabwean delegation that comprised of Mr July Moyo: Minister of Labour, and Mr C Chininga: Minister of Mineral and Energy. She noted the great role that Ms Swart had played in painting the picture of asbestos that culminated in the first summit, and also the present one. Therefore to ensure that the issue is properly addressed all those international companies that were involved in the dangerous spreading of asbestosis should be sued and the DEAT has submitted a memorandum to the Cabinet to this regard, which has been approved. Amongst other things that the Cabinet has done in addressing the effects of asbestos was to initiate a research programme that would ensure a complete eradication of asbestos mining in South Africa. The southern region has also become aware of the effects of asbestos through experience and as such a co-operation and sharing of information between SA and neighbouring countries becomes imperative. In order to counteract the harmful effects of asbestos it is important for SA to come up with the preventive measures as the region, taking into account the fact that all those companies that made huge profits at the country's our expense have since disappeared without addressing this problem. She concluded that the above challenges facing the region were not confined to one country but spreading across the borders. (see attached document for full submission)

Minister of Mineral and Energy, Zimbabwe
The Minister, Mr C Chininga, hoped the recommendations that would be reached at the end of the summit would help in addressing the issue. Although he acknowledged the fact that the two countries have mined different kinds of asbestos, he noted that the effect is the same and should be addressed in commonality. Based on its experience in the mining of asbestos Zimbabwe was very willing to share such experience with South Africa and any SADC country.

Rev M Chabaku (ANC) thanked Zimbabwe for its willingness to share its experiences with South Africa. She further noted that African people are not confined by boundaries and should therefore work together on all issues of commonality.

Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism submission
Mr B Mathebula (DEAT) noted that as the asbestos are fatal material due to their fatal effects to human kind, so it is the responsibility of everyone present in the summit come up with clear guidelines in dealing with such effects. South Africa had mined all the various types of asbestos since 1839, including chrysotile (the so-called white asbestos), crosidotile (the so-called blue asbestos) and amosite (the so-called brown asbestos). During all that time South Africa was the third biggest producer of asbestos in the world reaching a peak of about 380 000 tons in 1977. However, the most sinister thing is that during all that time most of the mining industries in SA were foreigners, who had long ceased mining operations in their own countries due to the hazardous nature associated with the mining of asbestos. Nevertheless a tremendous strides has been made since the 1998 summit to rectify the situation. As the means to address the hazardous effects of asbestos in the region a SADC summit is envisage to take place at the end February 2003. This summit might be followed by an international summit also envisaged to address the hazardous effects associated with the mining of asbestos. He concluded by noting that he hoped that the Nairobi Governance Council would come up with environmental governance on the use of asbestos. (see attached document for full text)

Dr C Olver: Director-General, DEAT, commended the Portfolio Committee for having hosted the summit on asbestos. He thereafter acknowledged the presence of delegates from Zimbabwe. He noted that his Department and the government, as the means to ban the production of asbestos, have launched a study project that would look on the economic and health cost involved. This study project is in its final stages and as soon as it is finalised it would be forwarded to Parliament for its decision. Based on his professional knowledge, as the doctor there is no safe way of using asbestos than to ban them. However before such decision may be taken issues such as economy should also be taken into account.

Ms R Ndzanga (ANC) asked whether there has been any drop in the production of asbestos since the 1998 summit.

Dr Olver replied that there has been a decline in the production of asbestos products throughout the world, due to various International Conventions.

Environmental Justice Network Forum submission
Mr Zac Mabilitja commended the government for the work it has done since 1998 summit in addressing the issue of asbestos in South Africa. However, he noted that the students in Mafefe Village are still using the classrooms buildings that were built with asbestos and one wonders what effect that would have on them in the long run. Further noted that even the water, which the village drinks, has been polluted with asbestos and that is why the community suffers so much from asbestosis. Some of the children who come from the area have been enlightened and as a result they are beginning to alter the structure of their homes. Although this is welcome, the effect of this on the community is disastrous since those employed to demolish the old building have no background education on the fatal effect of asbestos on their health. Moreover the material so demolished is not properly dumped.

Therefore all these people, one way or the other, have been affected by the mining of the fibre in their communities even though some of them might never have worked directly in the mining industries. So it is unfair to refuse these people compensation due to the fact that they were not directly involved in the mining industry or just because they cannot produce employment certificates of having worked in the mines.

He acknowledged the importance of dumps sites being rehabilitated but noted that the area where the people spent most of their time is much more important. Therefore priority should be given to the areas likes schools where children spent eight hours of their days and the houses where people spent most of their time living in it. He therefore requested the government to come to the rescue of the people of Mafefe since there is enough evidence to prove that these people have been infected by asbestos related diseases.

A departmental official noted that when the Department concentrates on the primary effects of the asbestos pollution it does not give the secondary effects less attention. While not minimising the importance of the surroundings to the human lives, the primary consideration is where the asbestos was mined.

Mr Mabilitja acknowledged the fact that the source of asbestos should be the main consideration. But, he warned that if most funds are spent on rehabilitating the mines without any funds being allocated for the local areas that might send a wrong impression to the locals.

The Chair requested the Department to comment on the allegation that funds are allocated for the mining area without any funds being allocated for the local areas.

Mr Mathebula responded that his Department once initiated a local project in Mafefe but the project was abandoned due to financial reasons, as all the tenders received were much higher than the allocated budget.

The Chair requested Mr Mabilitja to speak to any Member of Parliament, since they would know what to do in the circumstances. He further noted that Parliament has the power to summon anyone to come and account before it.

Group 5 submission
Mr Marumo: Director, noted that the Group is the conglomeration that governs DPI Plastics, Everite and other companies. Following the 1998 summit the Group took a decision that none its companies would ever manufacture any asbestos product. This was a bold decision to be taken by the Board of the Group since such affected its profit margin and resulted in 3000 job lost as some of the factories were forced to closed down. But, however this decision had to be taken in the interest of the human health in the country and throughout the region and the continent, as there were more than 532 asbestos diseases. However because Zimbabwe was opportunistic they continue production in those Everite factories that the Group has closed. The Group has been in search of an alternative fibre that would replace asbestos and now it is proud to announce that an alternative has been found in the tree fibre and the last asbestos products to be produce by Group 5 was on 13 December 2002. The new alternative product is asbestos free and through it jobs would once more be created. He called on the Government, as host of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development, to bid for the ban of any asbestos product worldwide.

Rev Chabaku warned Group 5 not to discard their old friends because they have found new ones. The best thing to do is try and find a solution to this problem without lashing at each other since they were all affected by the problems of asbestos.

Mr R Jankielsohn (DP) asked whether there are any asbestos products that are still on the market and what the Group is doing to ensure that their destruction is not fatal to human kind.

Dr B Gibson (Advisor: Everite) replied that Group 5 is market driven, therefore it would never keep selling any products if such products were no longer necessary or required. Since 13 December 2002 Group 5 has not produced any asbestos products in any of its companies.

Zimbabwe Health Ministry submission
Dr M Mataka (Ministry of Health, Zimbabwe) noted that asbestos has a life span effect starting from the time when it is mined, produced, transported, manufactured, constructed and then demolished. Throughout these processes someone comes into contact, one way or the other, with asbestos. Unlike Zimbabwe, which only mined chrysolite asbestos, South Africa were one of the largest producers of amosite and cridolite asbestos in the world. An exposure to these two kinds of asbestos is hazardous, unlike the other which causes minimal risk when use responsible. That is why South Africa mostly experienced problems relating to asbestos exposure, such as lung cancer and asbestosis.

This shows that the whole issue lies in the fibre size used since one cannot reduce the size of a fibre people breath in. The new alternative product would not solve the problem since the issue is not about the product used but about the size of fibre released into the air. It is important to ensure that locals are not exposed to high level of any fibre used. One of the ways of ensuring the reduction of the effect of fibre used is by education the people about the effects of such fibre and how they can be reduced. Secondly, it is important to measure the amount of fibre used so as to perfect its release to an environment. Thirdly, the health of the workers, involved in the production of such fibre, should be monitored. Although acknowledging that all kinds of works have hazardous effect, the issue should be the minimisation of those effects. With this in mind asbestos, especially the white asbestos, can be used safely.

Ms J Chalmers (ANC) noted that the argument is that any product carries hazardous effect since the issue surrounds the size of fibre used. Based on that she asked whether there has been any research project conducted by Zimbabwe on the effect of asbestos and whether there could be any alternative product used.

Dr Mataka replied that in terms of the research they had conducted it was found that any product is hazardous unless it is used according to its precautions then there would be increased risks. Therefore a fibre should be implemented in terms of the recommendation of the UN and ILO conventions. Zimbabwe is a shining example of this since most of its houses and public institutions have been built with white asbestos for more that 60 years. Until this day there has not been any complain from the public as the result of this product as they have made sure that the material is intact and is not in contamination with air.

Mr Jankielsohn wondered what the Ministers from Zimbabwe are doing in South Africa, concerning themselves with South Africa's health issues since in Zimbabwe they are the perpetrators of violence against their own people. However, having realised that the summit is of a commercial nature, he understood that they have a commercial interest in the matter and that is why they have come. The South African government should take less notice of what they say and take the advice of its own industries.

Mr J Arendse (ANC) reproved Mr Jankielsohn, accusing him of cheap political scoring. He requested Members to based their arguments on commercial thinking and not on political ideologies.

The Chair also apologised to the Zimbabwean delegates alleging that Mr Jankielsohn is a new member of the Committee and as such he is not aware of the working relationship among Committee Members. The remarks made by him were based on his political belief and were not representing the aspiration of the whole Committee since it would never invite them in order to humiliate them in South Africa.

Mr Mabilitja noted that any fibre has a characteristic and as such it is difficult to him as an ordinary man to understand the argument put forward by Dr Mataka. He also challenged the thinking that if some people could grow and die in their old age those who died before reaching such an age could not be said to have died of a disease related to asbestos.

Mr Mathebula also concurred with Mr Mabilitja and stated that his argument is valid since it has been raised time and again in all discussions relating to asbestos. Above all it should be noted that the effect of asbestos is very dangerous more than any fibre, due to its chemicals.

Mr Arendse noted that the debate should not be based on speculation but on facts, which have been scientifically proven.

Northern Cape submission
A departmental official (Northen Cape) noted that Northern Cape is one of the provinces that are highly infected by asbestosis and other asbestos related diseases. Notwithstanding the fact that Cape PLC has been taken to court, there are still other companies who have not been sued. It would therefore be proper if all those companies involved in the mining of asbestos are also taken to court so that the victims can be compensated. He proposed that the issue of compensation and rehabilitation should be tired together so that while people are being compensated on the hand the area got rehabilitated on the other hand. He requested the national and provincial government to go jointly to the victims of asbestos and explain why Cape PLC has not honoured the settlement until this day. He also urged the government not to ignore the secondary effects of asbestos, such as roof and asbestos shits in the houses and schools, while addressing the primary ones.

Minister Mawere Zimbabwe submission
Mr Mawere (Zimbabwe) noted that the problem is not in the product used but with the fibre size used and the two should not be confused. He acknowledged the fact that Zimbabwe indeed bought some of the Everite sites and continues to produce asbestos products, such as asbestos pipes. However what made Zimbabwe able to manage the risks associated with asbestos is the type of fibre they are using. Zimbabwe would never produce a substance that would be dangerous or fatal to the region since that would also affect Zimbabwe. So South Africa, as one of Zimbabwe's trading partners, is welcome to visit Zimbabwe to inspect the effects of its white asbestos Zimbabwe believed that the region could be enriched through the production of white asbestos since it carries a minimal risk as compared to other types of asbestos. He further noted that it is not only Zimbabwe that produces asbestos products but also countries like USA and Canada produces them. They understand that the problem is not the product but the fibre size used.

Mr Marumo noted that what is bad for South Africa would automatically be bad for any country, including Zimbabwe. Therefore since asbestos have proven to be hazardous substance then South Africa should adopt a precautionary approach and if necessary ban the product in toto. The new fibre that has been developed by Everite is coming from the tree and has been used successfully worldwide, especially in papers. So it is time for South Africa to protect the development of its own industries.

Prof I Mbadi (UDM) noted that he was part of the delegation that visited Zimbabwe to monitor the effect of asbestos there. Based on what they saw and from the presentations they heard they were convinced that the product used is the hazardous effect of asbestos but the size of the fibre used. However, having heard the line of discussion in the summit, he believed that new findings should be sought, which would be based on the best interest of South African citizens.

Department of Health submission
Dr G Sekobe (Cluster Manager: Non-Personal Health Services) noted that while ex-miners continue enjoy benefits in terms of ODMWA, however some of the diseases diagnose have found not be occupational. In terms of the research conducted it was found that most of the diseases in workplaces are as the result of the environment. Also noted that the research revealed that the highest number of asbestosis victims comes from poverty stricken families.

Department of Labour, Zimbabwe, submission
Mr J Moyo (Minister of Labour) noted that it is important that Zimbabwe and South Africa exchange ideas especially in areas where there is little or minor disagreement. This should be done not only between the two countries but also throughout the region. He noted that Zimbabwe takes the workers' situation very seriously and as the result a tripartate council known as the Occupational Safety and Health Council was formed. The council consists of government officials and private sector representatives and its role is, inter alia, to deal with the question of occupational health at workplaces, while compensation remains a major focus.

While acknowledging that these three types of asbestos produce different kinds of fibre, he noted that the research has revealed that their hazardous effects become imminent when exposed to air. What should be done is to come up with mechanisms that would ensure the prevention of the exposure of fibre to air. This means having to go back to the laboratories and re-look at the evidence we have there. Third world countries should not use ILO conditions as trade barriers as that would have serious consequences on trade relationship between the affected countries. Since Zimbabwe and South Africa are trading partners it is imperative to discuss this issue to ensure that any transportation of any chemical that is considered by another to be hazardous is effectively managed. One of the ways that would ensure the success of any prevention measures that may be adopted is by dissemination of information in all areas, especially in the work-related areas.


NUMSA submission
Peter Bailey noted that NUMSA, as an organisation which is involved in the mining industry, is quite aware of the health effect of asbestos to the mine workers and experience has taught them that all asbestos, whether white, blue or brown, by their very nature are harmful and hazardous. Therefore the Union applauded Government for the initiatives to ensure that the use of asbestos is governed by certain regulations. South African citizens have a moral and political obligation to protect each other against the dangerous effects of asbestos. A research team consisting of all affected role-players should be formed in order to conduct research on how the effect of asbestos can be reduced. The team should be given a five year period to make available its research report.

Dr S Kisting (OEHRU, UCT) noted that her unit has done considerable research into the effect of asbestos in workplaces. During that research a number of workers who are directly affected were interviewed. It was determined that most people who are affected by asbestos disease come from poverty stricken families, who were always prepared to endanger their lives so as to feed their families. Based on the above it is clear that it is the poor of the poorest who always carry the biggest burden of the asbestos diseases.

A Member noted that there are many environmental products which may lead to environmental diseases such as lung cancer. Why did the unit research only focus on the effect of asbestos and ignore others?

Dr Kisting responded that the unit does not only focus its research on asbestos but also on other causes of environmental diseases. However the paper concentrated on asbestos since it was the focus of the summit and pleaded that the next summit should be broaden in approach.


Department of Minerals and Energy submission
Ms E Swart noted that the DME initiated the programme for the disbanding of asbestos mining in 1997. Since then it has investigated the history of all mining industries that have mined in South Africa. She also noted that the government is not a party to the settlement agreement in the Cape PLC case, but has decided to observe. However, it is prepared to assist the victims in reopening the case should Cape PLC dishonour the out-of -court agreement. With regard to Gencoe/Jefco a report has been finalised and would be submitted to Cabinet for their decision since Jefco has requested a closure in the matter.

Mr Mabilitja noted that by not honouring the agreement reached between the two parties, Cape PLC has committed an offence and are therefore in contempt of the court. He asked what the British legal position is on this matter.

Ms Swart responded that the DME is not in a position to answer the question, as it does not represent any of the parties in this case. However, it has leant that the claimant had decided to withhold the proceedings and wait for the outcomes of the settlement since the proceedings would be time consuming and costly. She also noted that CPLC keep saying that that it is still prepared to honour the settlement agreement.

Ms C Ramotsamai (ANC) asked the motive that led to the waving of summons against CPLC since they are responsible for polluting our environment.

Ms Swart responded that waving the claim seemed to be in the best interest of the claimants and the out-of-court settlement was the best in the process as the claimants are man of straw.


Associated Mine Workers of Zimbabwe submission
Mr E Ruzive noted that the position of the workers in Zimbabwe differs from that of their counterpart in South Africa. In all the international gatherings that they have represented Zimbabwean workers, they have always been pro-asbestos mining. This is based on the fact that Zimbabwean workers know that the white asbestos is less harmful to the human health than the other two types. This view is also supported in the International Labour Organisation Convention. To confirm that the problem is not the product used but the fibre sized used there are several countries mining asbestos, including amongst others, Canada, Brazil and others. Therefore the Associated Mine Workers of Zimbabwe would continue to support the mining of white asbestos until the contrary has been proven that it is hazardous to human health.


Occupational Safety, Health Research and Policy Development submission
Mr M Ncube (Assistant General Manager) noted that the OSHRPD focuses on the workers, the workers environment and community environment. Its key considerations are the international standards as stipulated in the ILO conventions, the regional concerns of SADC, AU, COMESA, the national policies and legal provisions together with sectoral economic focus. Therefore the historical background of a country should be the determining factor, taking into account its economic growth, welfare of it citizens, protection and prevention measures available.


Dr Kisting asked whether there are any particular programmes focusing on cyclicone and asbestos.

Mr Ncube responded that they are actively involved in cyclicone programmes, which they conduct in partnership with ILO.

Mr F Cassiem (Deputy Chair of Chairpersons Committee) welcomed the presentations made by delegates on the effect of asbestos. He noted that the discussion would indeed increase the wisdom of all South African people in their contact with asbestos. This would further ensure that our people cherish the ideal enshrined in our Constitution to preserve the environment for the benefit of the present and future generation. He took the opportunity to thank the Zimbabwean delegation for their constructive participation throughout the discussion.

The hearings were adjourned for the day.

Appendix 1:



Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee

Chairperson of the Select Committee

Government Departments representatives

NGO's, affected communities

Business representatives

I am honoured to be part of this event to reflect on progress made since the Asbestos summit that was held in 1998. These public hearings will also attempt to present a full picture of the asbestos problem in South Africa, the extent of the health, welfare and environmental pollution problems that exists due to asbestos products in the country. The meeting will also try and address some of the socio- economic issues that have resulted due to deadly asbestos related diseases.

We have therefore come to this meeting to seek and share information so that we can understand and act on the basis of knowledge. This means that we must fully grasp the responsibilities presented upon us by this deadly mineral (asbestos fibres).

Asbestos has been mined in this country for many years. By 1910 five asbestos mines were operating in South Africa. By the 1950's, in other parts of the world such as Britain, companies have become aware that exposure to asbestos is harmful to human health and causes disease. In South Africa this realisation was not embraced so workers continued to remain ignorant of the true dangers of asbestos.

In South Africa the problem is more acute in the Limpompo Province and Northern Cape where reports indicate that children are forever playing on asbestos polluted and contaminated grounds. South Africa must come to terms with the fact that we have an asbestos industry. The challenge is to ensure that all parts of the asbestos chain, from mining to ultimately removal and waste disposal, are handled in a responsible manner to avoid pollution that could be harmful to both the environment and the people.

Looking at the policy approach, the precautionary principle is a key part of South Africa 's environmental management policy. This means that our approach to development and good environmental governance is that where any risks exists, we need to focus our energies on preventive action to counteract any possible harm that could result from such development action.

However, the overall government policy on asbestos is still in its infancy. It is against this policy background that I must announce my profound appreciation of the efforts undertaken by government departments to deal with identified sources of asbestos problem. The Department of Minerals and Energy (DME) has started to deal with the mine dumps, but the issue of secondary pollution into nearby villages still remains unresolved. It is of course unsatisfactory that the mining companies that made huge profits have simply disappeared and did not contribute to this effort.

Since 1996, the National Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs and Tourism took the initiative to investigate the impacts of asbestos within South Africa. The effects of asbestos are felt throughout the country, in every province, either through having mines or mine dumps in their provinces or through the use of asbestos products by consumers in general. Ex-workers and other sufferers of asbestos related diseases contracted due to environmental exposure are also not confined to one particular region but extend beyond our borders.

It is apparent that many government departments have responsibility for asbestos related matters, for example Minerals and Energy, Labour, Environmental Affairs and Tourism, Health, Trade and Industry, Transport, Justice and Constitutional Affairs e.t.c. Suffice it to say that the management of asbestos related matters has occurred in a fragmented manner.

There was therefore a need for government to take an integrated, co-ordinated response, as this will address the risk and dangers, posed by the asbestos pollution problem. Furthermore, the immediate risk of serious danger to the public or potentially serious detriment to the environment posed by asbestos dumps was noted. As a first step towards achieving the integrated approach to asbestos management, a National Asbestos Summit was held in 1998.

There was a need to:


  • Establish a National Parliamentary Inquiry on compensation and other remedial systems to make necessary changes


  • Establish research towards phasing out of chrysotile (white asbestos) and replacing it with alternatives


  • Ensure an enabling integrated legislative framework, including a ban on non-chrysotile asbestos


  • Government to sue foreign companies responsible for human suffering, environmental degradation and repayment to government of millions of Rands spent on rehabilitation of dumps and other remediation projects,


  • Establish a Multi-disciplinary Asbestos Advisory Group (MAAG) with mandate to conduct legislative audit in order to address the problem of fragmentation and to identify an inter-governmental co-ordinating structure as well as to advise on a co-ordination mechanism.

The recommendations of the summit were approved and ratified by Parliament and cabinet through the Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs and Tourism. In taking the process forward, DEAT prepared a Cabinet memorandum (Cab memo 20 of 2000) requesting approval and endorsement on the said responsibilities.

Cabinet approved the recommendations in this memorandum and further requested DEAT to co-ordinate the implementation of these responsibilities and submit progress report regularly to the Cabinet.

Government through the coordination role of DEAT has delivered on the following:


  • Occupational health and safety regulations on Asbestos


  • Established a single compensation office


  • Process to conduct a research on the feasibility of phasing out use of Asbestos in South Africa


  • Asbestos is no longer mined in South Africa and the last mine was closed in February 2001.


  • The rehabilitation of the mine is progressing well with DME taking the leading and DEAT contributing R500 000 for this process and participating in the steering committee.


  • Code of Best practise for maintenance, demolition and disposal of asbestos containing material.


  • Asbestos is no longer used in Road construction

Furthermore there has been a new development around asbestos with the signing of out of court settlement between asbestosis sufferers and the Cape PLC. This agreement has been signed but to date there is no progress in paying out victims, and of late reports indicates that Cape PLC is reneging on its contractual agreement.

I wish you well in your deliberations today and hope that we will recommit ourselves to the spirit of the 1998 summit.


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