Asbestos Blues

Asbestos Blues

Labour, Capital, Physicians and the State in South Africa

Jock McCulloch


No rights

James Currey



Most of the world's blue asbestos has been mined in South Africa, where industry and government have been slow to respond to environment and health issues.
Were mining and manufacturing companies, as they claimed, the victims of imperfect science and inadequate state regulation?
Since the 1930s growing evidence of the health risks was often suppressed by companies and the South African government.

Is enough being done to clean up the environmental damage caused by the mines?
Large areas of the northern Cape have been made permanently hazardous by asbestos mining. Windborne fibre continues to spread that hazard in an ever widening circle of risk. During 2001 the South African government allocated R100 million to clean up un-reclaimed mines, but far more will be necessary to make the landscape itself safe.

Should British companies be held responsible for the behaviour of their South African subsidiaries?
The prosperity of the asbestos industry in South Africa depended on apartheid. Company profits and the dividends paid to British shareholders were fuelled by the lowly paid and hazardous work of women and juveniles in South African mines.

JOCK MCCULLOCH is a Lecturer in the Faculty of the Constructed Environment, RMIT University, Australia

North America: Indiana University Press; South Africa: Juta


May 2002
12 black and white, 1 line illustrations
256 pages
21.6x13.8 cm
African Issues
ISBN: 9780852558621
Format: Paperback
James Currey
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...will be of great interest to Africanists, researchers interested in the history of occupational health, trade unionists, and community-based activists working to hold the asbestos industry accountable. - Lundy Braun in THE AFRICAN STUDIES REVIEW
Asbestos Blues is an examination of how multinational asbestos companies avoided litigation during the mid-twentieth century in South Africa. McCulloch shows how British-run asbestos companies, profiting from the National Party's apartheid structure, covered up evidence of the carcinogenic nature of asbestos fiber and continued to operate at higher rates of profit without warning their employees or the public of the dangers. His study, based on archival documents and personal interviews, juxtaposes descriptions of company denials and state indifference with chilling images of men, women, and children working and living unknowingly within clouds of deadly asbestos dust...McCulloch's study raises some important issues regarding the roles played by individuals in asbestos mining. Indeed, Asbestos Blues is a welcome addition to an understudied area of South Africa's history and will most likely form the foundation for future studies on the asbestos industry in South Africa and the world. - Tiffany F. Jonesin H-SAFRICA
Due to the long latency period of some asbestos-related diseases, the asbestos tragedy is becoming the biggest occupational health disaster of the twentieth century...Asbestos Blues adds a much-needed international dimension to the debate surrounding the asbestos tragedy...Readers of this book will find that the author's conclusions are soundly supported by an impressive weight of archival evidence, as well as some valuable oral history testimony - there are also some very good illustrations. Moreover, over and above the South African emphasis there is a sound awareness throughout the book of the global dimensions of the topic, and the transfer of medical knowledge between South Africa and the UK is well examined...a well researched and enthralling book which greatly adds to our understanding of the scale of the asbestos disaster. - Ronnie Johnston in SOCIAL HISTORY OF MEDICINE

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