A human rights body in Malawi has sued Paladin Africa Limited (PAL) for alleged grave damage the Kayelekera Uranium Mine has caused to some miners and the surrounding communities in Karonga district.
The Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) is accusing PAL of not prioritising the welfare of its employees and the communities.
(Timothy Mtambo (L) is the executive director of CHRR and Abraham Siliwonde narrating his ordeal Images taken by Norbert MZEMBE
It has been revealed that Kayelekera Uranium Mine has negatively impacted not only on the natural resources like land, water and aquatic life but also on the lives of many people who have developed different forms of physical disorders on their bodies.
For instance, according to community members surrounding Kayelekera uranium and Mwaulambo coal mines, PAL leaves a lot to be desired considering the condition of a 31 year old Abraham Siliwonde, former employee of Paladin who lost his sight while on duty due radioactive effects, however, the company ‘did not’ attend to his suffering in any way.
Siliwonde solemnly tells his tale to human rights organisations to seek help as he can no longer support his family due to his visual impairment caused by radioactive emissions from high grade uranium he was working on as a Dumper Truck Driver earning a gross salary of MK33,528,34.
In the gullies of his chicks, tears of sorrow never cease to flow each time sympathisers ask him how he lost his sight at the age of 21.
His account states, “I started working at the company as a watchman and then soon after undergoing a successful training, on 11 January 2014, I was promoted to work at the Spotter department as a Dumper Truck Driver working on high grade uranium.”
“The job was very dangerous because of the dust from the mills which could enter my eyes, ears and be inhaled. Though I was putting on protective glasses but the fact that I was working day and night, it was very difficult to see properly during night when in glasses so I could put them off.”
Siliwonde further explained that he raised his concerns to his immediate boss, Owen Thuluwa, who was the Acting Human Resources Superintendent, but his complaints proved futile only to be asked whether he wanted the job or not.
“I tried to reason with Thuluwa but he insisted that I would just say it if I wanted the job or not. I even didn’t know that the gases being omitted from the industry also penetrated the work suit I was putting on, causing skin irritation.”
He added that in January 2012, he lodged another complaint but no any consideration was made that after six months of his duties, he started feeling a brawny itching in his eyes and latter experienced a dull sight while shading tears unexpectedly.
“I reported to the office that I can’t see any more so they referred me to the PAL clinic right at the mining site where after narrating my problem to Dave Kakaka, a Japanese medical doctor, he new it already and advised me to go home after giving me some powerful drugs but the problem resurfaced after a week.”
On 29 December, 2012 Siliwonde says the company wrote him a referral letter and gave him MK9,000 to go to Mzuzu central hospital where a female Japanese medical specialist examined him thoroughly and shook her head while advising him to resign his job.
“I returned to Kayelekera but upon entering the office to report to Thuluwa about the progress of my trip to Mzuzu, little did I know that they knew my problem already and that several colleagues had developed the same problem so he referred me to a Nyirongo only to be given a redundancy letter.”
He said he went back to the office to meet Thuluwa pleading with him again on his job termination on the grounds that he was unproductive to the company while his blindness was due to radiation in the line of duty but only to be told that the decision to fire him was a directive from the company’s top brass.
Siliwonde told this reporter that he became stranded and started selling all his hard-earned property to go back to Mzuzu Central Hospital to save his sight but that time, eye specialist said his eyes had completely been destroyed and was referred to Kamuzu Central Hospital (KCH).
Whilst there at KCH, a Dr Msosa tried to revivify the poor man’s eyes through the knowledge of his colleague in a European country through the internet basing on the patient’s explanation, it still did not hold water as the European specialist paraphrased the story stating that radiation had severely destroyed Siliwonde’s eyes.
Being unsatisfied with medical tests, in August 2014 Siliwonde decided to go back to the hospital for an alternative to his problem where he was finally told to source about MK6m to go to private hospitals because there was no drugs in public hospitals that could heal him.
“Up until 2014 when the company stopped its mining operations at Kayelekera, the acting human resources superintendent, Owen Thuluwa started mocking me saying my problem was a man made beside having shown him my medical reports,” lamented sightless Siliwonde.
He added that due to his condition, his two children Junior and Peter have consequently become the victims of their father’s fate as they are now rotting at home without schooling due to lack of school fees after successfully being selected to Maghemo Community Day and Chilumba Boarding Secondary school respectively.
Reacting on the matter, Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) described Siliwonde’s situation as a touching and very pathetic story to be concealed upon as he was born physically fit but now he is unproductive to fend for his family and pay school fees for his children all in the expense of PAL.
CHRR executive director, Timothy Mtambo, said minerals are the endowment natural resources given to benefit the nation but instead of that, they are making people’s lives doomed and therefore thought it wise to drag the mining company to court for the damage caused both to human life and natural resources.
“As CHRR, we don’t want to take the issues of mining lightly. Now that this issue is already in the court we are just waiting for the final determination because we are very concerned about the story of Abraham Siliwonde,” said Mtambo.
Mtambo explained that they have been one of the institutions that are demanding from government the need for Environmental Impact Assessment Report (EIAR) to be issued to the public from the very beginning of the mining operations but that has never been done.
“So we have a lot of questions hovering in our minds that maybe there is something bad in the report that government is hiding from the public to know. Is it that the authorities do not think we have the right to information? That is why we need ATI bill to pass in parliament to enable people access such information.”
“So currently what we are doing on the issue of Siliwonde is that we are targeting the company that employed him. They are the people that we want the court to determine whether they really handled his issue in a professional way or not,” he emphasised.
“But when it comes to the release of the environmental impact assessment report, we feel like it’s the duty of government to issue it out to the people. We should not be getting to the extent of kneeling down for the information that belongs to us,” added Mtambo.
While it has been revealed that there are a lot of impacts of the mines circulating in the district where several people are reported to have been affected physically beside Siliwonde’s case, the civil society organisation seeks to document a vivid report on it.
He said, “We also need to document the actual number of the affected people so that we can map the way forward on how to help our brothers and sisters pull out of their situation by linking them to institutions that can support them make sure that they are compensated and justice prevail.”
Meanwhile, it is rumoured that Kayelekera Uranium Mining Company has been sold out to a Chinese company to continue mining operations as it is deploying its machines back to its base in Australia.
Thuluwa the acting HR superintendent could not be reached for comment.