Broke and Broken


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Zwelendaba Mgidi is dying. He is a depressed, sickly man who cannot even leave his home or perform the simplest of duties such as gardening. He used to be a very fit man; a boxer and road runner full of life and energy. But the 28 years he spent working underground in the mines of South Africa’s Gold Fields in the Free State have left him a wreck. In 2008, aged 48, he received devastating news. The Medical Bureau for Occupational Diseases diagnosed him with silicosis, “an irreversible, progressive, incurable and at a later stage disabling and potentially fatal disease.”

Mgidi was recruited for the mines by The Employment Bureau of Africa (TEBA) when he was only 18 years old in 1978. When he returned home at the age of 51, he was a shadow of the man he once was. This is the fate that has befallen hundreds of thousands of African men who, since the gold rush of Johannesburg in 1886, were recruited from their villages to provide cheap labour on the gold mines of Transvaal and the Free State. Broke and Broken: The Shameful Legacy of Gold Mining in South Africa explores the exploitation, the blatant disregard for health and safety regulations whose implications continue to be felt in rural villages far away from the imposing mine shafts.

This book explores one of southern Africa’s greatest tragedies and it is told by the men from Pondoland and Lesotho, the labour reserves that oiled the gold mining industry. It also delves into how, as a result of migrant labour, families were broken and how generations of families followed the well-worn path to the mines, only to return years later carrying a disease that is incurable and leads to a slow, painful death.