Between 1979 and 1995, Thembekile Mankayi toiled deep below the South African earth, searching for gold. He contracted silicosis, an incurable disease that causes shortness of breath, chest pains and a relentless cough. The silicosis led to tuberculosis, and in 2006, Mankayi sued the mining company AngloGold. He died a few days before the country's highest court made its decision, but the judges agreed in principle that miners with ravaged lungs could get damages from their employers.
Today, that ruling is becoming reality. 40 percent of the gold ever produced came from South African soil, and the body count of our trinkets and timepieces hasn't been tallied. A century ago, the gold mining moguls helped pioneer the racist system that ensured cheap black labor. As Peter Robbins, former chairman of the World Gold Commission, wrote in 1991, "Gold and apartheid have been inextricably linked for 100 years."