Parliamentary Asbestos Summit

Tourism

28 January 2003
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report

ENVIRONMENTAL AFFAIRS AND TOURISM PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
29 January 2003
PARLIAMENTARY ASBESTOS SUMMIT

Chairperson: Ms G Mahlangu-Nkabinde

Documents handed out:
The following documents are awaited and will be available shortly
Submission by National Chrysotile Asbestos Taskforce
Submission by Department of Environmental Affairs (South Africa)

SUMMARY

The Committee heard further submissions on the effects of asbestos in South Africa and
Zimbabwe. One submission from the Asbestos Taskforce in Zimbabwe submitted that 65% of the Zimbabwean population lives under asbestos roof materials and but previously there till this day there has never been any serious effect to their lives as the result of such. This proves that not all asbestos fibre cement constitutes health hazards as long as they are kept intact and polluted by air. Removal would be costly and result in waste of taxpayers' money. Another submission noted that, although most asbestos can be said to be lung cancer carriers, research on the exposure assessment should first be conducted together with environmental surveillance.

MINUTES
The Chair informed Members that an ANC MP, Mr B William, has passed away while returning to Cape Town after recess.

National Chrysotile Asbestos Taskforce, Zimbabwe submission
Mr P Whitehead noted that 65% of the Zimbabwean population lives under asbestos roof materials and till this day there has never been any serious effect to their lives as a result. This therefore proves that not all asbestos fibre cement are health hazards. Above all to have them removed would be costly and result in wastage of taxpayers' money. This is evident from the fact that even though countries like the USA have once tried to remove the fibre roofs, they could not find any evidence of the reduction in human health. He also noted that the developing and the developed countries have different agendas and that should be taken into account. The solution could only be found in the so-called three D's, namely, dimension, dosage and durability.

 

Discussion
Mr R Jankielsohn (DP) noted that there are different opinions regarding the best approach to asbestos. What would be the best solution that would be in the interest of the public: either banning or finding a middle way?

Mr Whitehead replied that this is not an easy choice to make but the Ministry should develop a research team, which would come up with recommendations as to which would be the best solution in the process.

The Chair noted that the Portfolio Committee has no power to call for the ban of any product. However the exercise is to receive all the information and policies in place to enable it to make the necessary recommendation to the Cabinet.

Mr R September (ANC) noted that he is concerned about the damage that asbestos has done in South Africa. As if that was not enough, people who are affected have been completely neglected and have to live with the effects of asbestos. He requested Mr Whitehead to comment on how this could be prevented.

Mr Whitehead noted that there is no wrong or right approach in this regard, based on the fact that business industries have proven to be unreliable. However, as a result of the "three D's" the durability of the fibre could be check while the dosage used is monitored and the result of its dimension, thus locking in the fibre intact. Therefore the legislation would play an important role in this regard, regulating the correct use of any fibre.

The Chair noted that the problem of people still living with the effect of asbestos is one legacy which our country could not ignore.

 

Kuruman Asbestos Free Group submission
The Kuruman Group has handed over its report concerning the effects of asbestos on those living with its effects to Parliament. The report states that a large number of people in the area are complaining about chest related illnesses. In most cases when some of these people die they are said to have died of natural causes, but the post mortem conducted revealed that they died of asbestos related diseases. In the report the group asked the government to intervene by providing the local clinics with proper medical facilities and products. The speaker also noted that the community is unsettled in the area due to the fact that their homes and children's classrooms are built in asbestos. Some of the classrooms were once used for asbestos storing. However, due to their inability to afford better places they have no option but to stay in the area. Asbestos has therefore affected not only those who once worked in mines but also those who never worked in mines especially women and children. When the community is compensated that fact should also be taken into account.

 

Discussion
Prof M Mbadi (UDM) expressed disappointment at the manner in which the media reported on the previous day's session. They did not report on important issues raised but focused on the Zimbabwean delegates.

It seemed from the presentation that people who never worked in mines are not given compensation although they might have contaminated with asbestosis one way or the other through its lifespan. He then asked how these people are classified in terms of the compensation.

Ms C Ramotsamai (ANC) acknowledged the importance of the question raised by Prof Mbadi. However, she requested the government departments to respond to the question since victims could not be expected to know the answer.

Dr G Sekobe (Cluster Manager: Non-Personal Health Services) responded that his Department does provide health service to the community in three different locations in the area. However, some of the cases that his office rejected were not falling under his Department but were environmentally related.

The Chair asked whether the Departments involved are not working as the cluster in resolving asbestos problem.

Dr Sekobe replied that this concerns had been raised in the consultation meetings with the Departments concerned.

A NUMSA representative noted that the compensation fund does not cover people who did not work in mines. So the Act should be amended to cover this people especially women and children who either contaminate asbestosis from their husbands or fathers or from exposure in their school environment.

Mr M Ncube (Assistant General Manager: OSHRPD) said that South Africa needs to approach the issue of compensation holistically, taking into account both the primary and secondary effects of exposure.

Mr September noted that it is dangerous to let the community suffer without anything being done. He therefore pleaded to everyone, including the affected communities, to come forward and assist the government in its endeavour.

 

Lawyers Representing Affected Individuals submission
Ms S Williams requested the government to amend the existing laws with regard to compensation since it fails to take into account the effect of exposure to asbestos as the result of secondary pollution. The government should also provide an asbestos compensation fund, which will focus exclusively to those affected by exposure to asbestos. This should be done as a matter of urgency since the legal process is very costly and time consuming. However certain criterion should be applied before one's application can be approved. It should be noted that to expose anyone to asbestos is against the spirit and purport of the Constitution since it violates those person's rights provided in Section 24. Above all it is unfair for everyone, especially poor families, to loss their loved ones who were breadwinners and be left destitute.

 

Discussion
Ms Ramotsamai asked what is happening with the Cape PLC case, the plan and where to go.

Ms Williams noted that her firm is not the attorneys of record against Cape PLC but in the Gencor matter. However the judgement in the CPLC matter is still awaited.

Mr Mawere (Zimbabwe) noted that some of the companies that were involved in asbestos mining have ceased to exist. Based on this, how do the lawyers plan to proceed against the non-existing companies?

A NUMSA representative noted that all the companies involved have not ceased to operate but have either sold their sites and changed names or run away since they knew that they were engaging in an exploitation of human lives. Since their successors do not have money to pay for their predecessors' actions, they should be hunted and prosecuted.

A departmental official noted that while he acknowledged the importance of compensating victims, all companies involved in the spreading of asbestosis should also be compelled to rehabilitate the affected areas. This is based on the fact that even after compensation the people would still need a place to stay and it is a hazard to human health.

Ms J Chalmers (ANC) asked whether someone can also claim for the loss of lifestyle.

Ms Williams replied that a person is entitled to claim for the loss of lifestyle together with the loss of life.

The Chair said that, taking into account the legal costs involved in these cases, would it not be beneficial for the affected to have their cases run by the State.

Ms Williams acknowledged the huge amount required in the institution of this cases. However she noted that the proceedings would not have been possible without the funds from their international partners.

Mr B Mathebula noted that the lawyers are involved in the matter to make profit at the end. He said that this is based on the fact that while the DME is busy negotiating with Jefco, the lawyers persuade the locals to take actions against Jefco. This would result in the conflict of interest since both side pushes different objects and at the end one of the object would be sacrificed.

Ms Williams responded that the lawyers encourage people to institute proceedings since they believe Jefco to have billions of rands and thus should take responsibility for it actions.

 

Enviroserve submission
Ms J Young noted that the result of asbestosis is due to ignorance on the part of the business sectors and lack of information on the part of the public. She therefore recommended that there should be public education and awareness programmes to heighten the public about the effect of asbestos. The government should also engage in policing of asbestos, require national register to be completed and inspect installation of large asbestos for any visible detoriation and acid rain damage. There should also be replacement policies for all asbestos structures.

 

Department of Environmental Affairs submission
Dr Baloyi noted that although there are different kinds of asbestos available one should always look at the kind of fibre used. Although most asbestos can be said to be lung cancer carriers, research on the exposure assessment should first be conducted together with environmental surveillance.

Mr V Moosa (Minister of Environment Affairs and Tourism) thanked the Committee for organising the summit. The Cabinet was looking forward to the recommendations that would come out of the discussions. The Ministry on Environmental Affairs and Tourism would be eager to act on any recommendations resulting from the summit.

The Chair noted that the committee would organise a joint meeting of all portfolio committees involved. In that joint meeting a cluster recommendation would be formulated and thereafter be submitted to the Cabinet. She then asked Mr B Mathebula to thank everyone on behalf of the departments, Mr M Moss (ANC) on behalf of Parliament, Mr Moyo on behalf of Zimbabwe and Prof Mbadi to make a closing address.

 

Wrap up and way Forward
Mr Mathebula thanked everyone for constructive participation. He noted that the South African delegation from the Departments would indeed visit Zimbabwe in order to learn their experience in dealing with asbestos, environment and compensation, including rehabilitation. The exchange of ideas has been important since it became clear that to ban asbestos would involve economic and infrastructural development. He acknowledged that the summit did not address some of the important issues regarding international pressure. But the Department took note of the importance of secondary issues raised by the social organisations.

Mr Moss thanked the Zimbabwean delegation for their willingness to exchange ideas with their South African counterparts. He once more apologised on behalf of Parliament for any foul words used during the discussion. But reiterated that the Committee is not in the position to recommend banishment of any product and that is the duty of the Cabinet.

Mr Moyo (Minister of Labour, Zimbabwe) acknowledged that there are many injustices that are perpetuated in the workplaces. SA and Zimbabwe need to work in co-operation to eradicate those ills, as they did during the apartheid days. Zimbabwe had also gained valuable information from the discussion especially on the scientifically part of the discussion. He said it is bad for African countries to fight in the international arena especially on trivial things that should have been firstly discussed within the region or continent.

Prof Mbadi noted that what had brought them together in the summit is their concern for human lives in the region and in the continent as the whole. Although they differed on some issues, it is important to keep on exchanging views since this is the only way to find the best way for the region.

The Chair thanked everyone, especially the departmental staff for the work done to ensure the success of the summit.

The meeting was adjourned.

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