Ntabeko’s husband started drinking excessively after he was fired from his job at the mine because of his poor health. Greg had been working at the mine for 8 years when he was diagnosed with Tuberculosis. Greg’s case is not uncommon. Many local people fail to pass the medical examinations to get jobs at the mine because they are found with respiratory diseases caused by breathing the dirty air. As I talk to Ntabeko I find that I have to repeat myself all the time and she realises that I am starting to question whether she cannot understand my questions. She breaks my heart and tells me that she cannot hear properly anymore because of the blasting. ”My hearing has been damaged my sister, but who do I tell?” ”I am sorry but try to speak a little louder so that I can hear you.” she said. Even though she was sitting right across the table, she could not hear some of the things I was saying. I reached out and held her hand, I did not want to cry in front of her but I wanted her to know that I feel her pain.
”Greg became uncontrollable after losing his job,” narrated Ntabeko. I really do not want to recall those days because he became increasingly violent against me and the children until his relatives took him away.” It’s been 3 years since he left and Ntabeko didn’t know whether to say she is married or she is single. ”I just focus on taking care of my children, I really don’t think about what my marital status is.”she said, letting out a little laugh. With her own 4 children, 2 of her sister’s orphans and an unemployed cousin in the house, Ntabeko had to step up to be the breadwinner after Greg left. She works for the Community Work Programme a government community initiative and earns R780 per month working for 2 days a week. She loans some of her money to neighbors and friends at an interest rate to augment the meager income.
Ironically, living in a town where coal is mined and electricity generated at two stations, Ntabeko uses an illegal power connection. I am shocked at this revelation. I ask her, “Äre you not afraid of prosecution Ntabeko?” She laughs in an almost sarcastic manner and says to me, “A woman has got to do what a woman has got to do!” We all are struggling with electricity bills in this community and yet the electricity is being made here!” I can see that Ntabeko feels robbed as she says this. Already she is losing her hearing, she has lost a husband and an illegal electricity connection can never be compensation enough. Of course, she has been caught a few times and I ask how she has gotten out of it. This time she laughs out loud. ”The municipality officials can be bribed it’s easy. Its only that sometimes you have to use this currency.” she says using her head to look down as if to point to something and I get it! This is what coal mining has done!
Did I mention that Ntabeko’s house is cracking. Her case seems to say it never rains but pours. The blasting by the coal mining companies has caused many houses in Phola to crack and residents have been seeing to repairs on their own. Now, you will realise that it doesn’t pour for Ntabeko, it floods. Her 5 year old son was diagnosed with asthma caused by breathing the dusty air and inhaling the coal fumes right inside the house as they use coal to warm the family during cold nights. Her eyes are tearing as she tells me this. At this point I stop asking questions. I reach out for my handbag and I give her a tissue. I rise from my chair and hug her. It is painful even for me.
Coal mining is not only destructive. It is dangerous to people and all life and it is pure evil. This is what coal mining does.
#coalmining #accesstoenergy #dirtycoal #saynotocoal
Please note that the names have been changed and the story fictionalised by the author.