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Dying for gold: South Africa’s biggest ever class action lawsuit gets go ahead

Welkom, South Africa (CNN)The most striking thing about Joseph Mothibedi is his voice — it is raspy, a metallic whisper.

It’s the sound of a man slowly dying.
    His thin fingers trembling, Mothibedi leans over his simple hot plate and puts a tea kettle on the boil.
    The 58-year-old former gold miner looks reduced in his old blue work shirt. It hangs off his bony shoulders as he spreads margarine on a slice of white bread for afternoon tea. He slowly sips it in his barren brick house near an old mine-dump.
    “Just listen to my voice,” he says, “I have problems with my lungs. I can’t even walk fast or far. It is very hard for me.”
    Mothibedi is stricken with silicosis, an incurable lung condition that affects gold miners in southern Africa.

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    Miners with proven silicosis can apply for compensation from a government fund — but many die before the complicated paperwork is complete.
    Mothibedi says he got a one-time payment of around 5,000 dollars in 2008. It was meant to last him a lifetime. Now, he depends on disability grants.
    When Mothibedi grew up in nearby Lesotho, he saw the mines as the only opportunity to further himself.
    “When I started to work in the mines I wanted to just make money and go back to school and study,” he says. “But when I started seeing people making money I thought I could save money and start my own business.”
    He slowly moved up to one of the few more senior jobs at the mines that black miners could hope to get during apartheid, all the while sucking in the dust that that would ruin his lungs.
    Silicosis put an end to Mothibedi’s dreams.
    “I feel helpless. This sickness has destroyed everything in my life,” he says.

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