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Nuke workers call on Mbeki

By unknown | May 22, 2007 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

Two busloads of former workers for the Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa will descend on the Union Buildings in Pretoria on Friday morning to visit their president and health minister.

Two busloads of former workers for the Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa will descend on the Union Buildings in Pretoria on Friday morning to visit their president and health minister.

They will ask these national political leaders to intervene on their behalf and help these ordinary citizens receive the compensation they believe is due to them for having been nuked and poisoned at work by a state- owned company.

President Thabo Mbeki and acting Health Minister Jeff Radebe don't yet know about this visit, but the members of the 500-strong Necsa Ex-Workers' Association, based in Atterideville outside Pretoria, decided on Sunday morning that they have failed in every other means open to them to claim what is legally their due.

They have witnessed 18 of their colleagues die over the past three years as they have cajoled, begged and implored their former employer to forward their pitiful cases to the government compensation commissioner, says Alfred Sepepe, coordinator of the association.

But the more desperate these penniless and ailing workers become, the more brazenly Necsa deceives parliament and flouts the compensation law, says Mashile Phalane of Earthlife Africa, an environmental group that has taken up the former workers' plight.

He points out that three years ago Necsa promised to launch a transparent and independent investigation of the workers' claims that for decades they were irradiated and poisoned by chemicals at work.

Instead the company appointed a panel comprising former employees and associates.

The investigation cost millions in taxpayers' money, but even the reports compiled by this closed group of pals have been hidden from public view.

Though the Necsa ExWorkers' Association's cause has been championed by public-interest environmental, medical and legal groups, they and their supporters lack the money they need to take on a powerful, secretive public corporation with unlimited tax-funded coffers.

The workers have taken their case to the press, they have approached politicians and they have even toyi-toyied outside the company's sprawling complex at Pelindaba, where many say they were poisoned when building and then disassembling the plant that made the apartheid government's nuclear weapons. All their actions have got them nowhere.

Sepepe and his colleagues are particularly bitter about being abandoned by the government that came in on their shoulders and those of fellow workers. They appreciate the bitter irony that many of their closest allies are now poor white colleagues who were their nominal masters a decade or so ago.

Doctors who have examined them say they are all now afflicted by the same radiationinduced cancers, chemical poisoning and other occupational ailments.

Together these workers say they now find themselves arrayed against apartheid-era nuclear bomb makers and their newfound black economic empowerment consorts. They cannot match them in resources, political clout or even friends in high places.

But these self-identified victims of corporate skulduggery believe their cause is just and hope they can find a friend or two in the highest offices in the land. So over the past few weeks 50c here and a few rands there have been set aside from grants and pensions all across Alexandria to put together the R1200 the two buses will cost them.

Early on Friday as many as can cram into the buses will head off to nearby Pretoria where they hope to find a sympathetic ear and someone, anyone, who has the clout to see the law is enforced before another of their colleagues dies.


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