DEPUTY labour minister Tapiwa Matangaidze last Thursday lied about the dangers posed by the long fibre asbestos which the country continues to use despite worldwide calls for the banning of the mineral,” a global workers’ union has said.
Responding to questions from delegates to the IndustriAll Sub Saharan Africa Region Executive meeting in Harare, Matangaidze said there was no conclusive study that long fibre asbestos was detrimental to health, hence the continued use of the mineral by the country, which he said also continued to export to South Africa even after the neighboring country had banned its own short fibre asbestos.
This, he said, was despite the fact that there had been a lot of papers on the safety of long fibre asbestos, which was mined at Shabanie and Mashava mines in Zimbabwe.
“The best way is to conclusively come up with a report before putting a blanket ban on asbestos,” Matangaidze told the gathering.
“Currently the asbestos mines are closed because of other challenges but even in South Africa they have banned short fibre but Zimbabwe continued to export to South Africa, so I think let’s do a lot more work to prove issues coming about the long fibre asbestos.”
However, in an interview on the sidelines of the meeting, IndustriALL Global Union Assistant General Secretary, Atle Hoie, said the Deputy Minister’s statements disingenuous.
He said although the long fibre asbestos was less dangerous than the short fibre asbestos, both were equally lethal and contributed to between 150 000 and 200 000 deaths per year globally.
“That is all lies, the world called for the ban on asbestos after realizing it is the worst killer in the planet. If a country produces asbestos, it is responsible for the people dying.
“Life is more important and what Zimbabwe needs is the creation of a system for just transition because the whole world is dealing with global warming,” he said.
Hoie said the Zimbabwe government should follow the precautionary principle, which called for the banning of a substance once it was suspected to be dangerous.
The next meeting of parties to the United Nations Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade, to be held this April in Geneva, Switzerland, will likely vote to delete a section in Article 22 of the Convention which calls for unanimity in the passing of resolutions.
“With the current provision, Zimbabwe can block everything if it decides against the banning; that is the fight. So we are hoping the next meeting can vote on the banning of asbestos.
Twelve African countries have put a proposal for the banning of asbestos but South Africa, although it has banned the mineral, has refused to sign the document.
The National Union of Mines (NUM) and the National Union of Metal South Africa (NUMSA) have vowed to confront their government over the issue.
NUM General Secretary, Piet Matosa, said the use of asbestos should be discontinued, adding that Matangaidze’s statement only gave them information on how to approach the matter but did not stop asbestos from being dangerous.
Zimbabwe together with Russia, the world’s biggest asbestos exporter, are the only two countries opposing the listing of chrysotile asbestos as hazardous.