Speaking notes for the Director- General, Thobile Lamati at the virtual launch of the Asbestos Abatement Regulation
27 November 2020


Good morning to: 
The Inspector General of Inspections and Enforcement Services 
Organised Labour representatives
Organised Business representatives
All our presenters
Our special Guests
Our clients and last but not least ….
Our foot soldiers, the people on the ground who make things happen … our inspectors

Thank you for joining us today, to officially launch the Asbestos Abatement Regulations promulgated on 10 November 2020, by the Minister of Employment and Labour.

Unfortunately, South Africa has a long and tragic history with asbestos.  In 1906, the first death related to asbestos was documented. In the early 1900s, researchers began to notice a large number of people with lung problems and early deaths in towns that mine asbestos. In the global scene, the first diagnosis of asbestosis was made in the UK in 1924.
in the 1930s, the UK regulated ventilation and made asbestosis an excusable occupational disease, effectively underplaying the impact of the disease.  
The term mesothelioma was first used in medical literature in 1931 and its association with asbestos was first noted in the 1940.

Many multinational companies worked in South Africa contributing to the current plight of asbestos in our country, one of such company was Cape PLC which was founded in 1893 in Britain as the Cape Asbestos Company with the objective of mining asbestos in the South Africa and importing it into European countries where it could be woven into fire-resistant materials. By 1913 it had four factories in the London area.

Cape PLC was involved in mining crocidolite (blue) and amosite (brown) asbestos in the Northern Cape and Limpopo until 1979. In addition to mining, mills were established to crush the asbestos rock to expose the fibres. This led to the environmental contamination in many towns in those provinces. The asbestos products from asbestos mined in SA were not only manufactured locally, but in Italy and England as well. These were then sold around the world. This practice led to the exposure of miners, factory workers, ship-dock workers and communities to asbestos.

Claims for compensation against Cape PLC were made by American asbestos victims as well as Italian workers employed by a Cape PLC subsidiary. In 1999 almost 2000 claims were proceeded with in England against Cape PLC by South African claimants exposed to asbestos in SA during mining and other related activities.

By 2001 a total of 7 500 claims were registered. There were 75% of the claims from Limpopo and 25% from Northern Cape. In 2001, there was a settlement that resulted in a payment of £21 million into the Hendrik Africa Trust.
In March 2003, three new settlement arrangements were signed by the new owners thereafter, the company was unbundled. This is an illustration of a painful and tragic history as a result of undue exposure of victims to asbestosis. The compensation that was made to the next of kin of the victims was small relief against the loss of life.  
In 2008, South Africa joined 50 other countries in banning the use, processing and manufacture of products using asbestos. In same year, the then Department of Environmental Affairs, promulgated the Regulations prohibiting the use; manufacturing; importing and exporting of asbestos and material containing that asbestos. This was carried out under the Environmental Conservation Act, Act 73 of 1989.

In 2007 an extensive study was undertaken by Government to assess the extent of secondary asbestos contamination, especially in previous asbestos mining areas.  The study revealed that the provinces that showed asbestos contamination from environmental sources were the Northern Cape; Limpopo, North West and Mpumalanga.

Under the Department of Environment, Fisheries and Forestry the Waste Management Strategy in terms NEMA currently requires the reuse and recycle of all waste, however, if asbestos is to be reused or recycled this would just transfer the problem and the health risks. Therefore, disposal thereof in landfill is the only viable option when coming to management of asbestos waste. 

To facilitate the management of asbestos that is contaminated with secondary asbestos due to mining and other activities, a National Secondary Remediation Plan was developed in 2009. This plan aimed to remediate areas that were identified and to facilitate integration and sustainable management of asbestos in the country.

The Strategy’s objectives amongst others represent the following specific areas in which focus would be placed -
To promote sustainable management of asbestos
To facilitate collaboration among key role players 
To develop intergovernmental and government-industry forums on asbestos management
To mobilise research institutions to investigate best practices for sustainable management of asbestos 
To facilitate advocacy, education, consultation on asbestos and related community and health issues
To implement a Risk Based Approach (RBA) on asbestos management
To create a platform to exchange information on best practices on asbestos management
To supplement existing approaches on the management of asbestos in order to strengthen asbestos management systems in the country.

The World Health Organization (WHO), joined by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), has called on countries throughout the world to eliminate asbestos-related diseases.

The WHO advises that the best way to eliminate such diseases is to stop using all types of asbestos. I am pleased that South Africa has now terminated the utilisation of asbestos. 

The use of asbestos has declined by 55% from its historical peak of 4.7 million metric tonnes per year in 1980. However, more than 2 million metric tonnes per annum, are still used worldwide.

As is the case with many other countries, South Africa still has asbestos containing materials in many buildings and naturally occurring asbestos in areas where it was previously mined. 

The legislator has already developed appropriate legislation and policy, however, the prime focus is to manage and control asbestos sources thus ensuring that the health of workers and communities  in general is not adversely affected.