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JOHANNESBURG - Christmas came early for thousands of former mineworkers suffering from silicosis when the Qubeka Trust awarded them more than R100 million in compensation.

In the 19 months since the trust was established in March last year, it has paid about R102 m in compensation to qualifying former mineworkers battling silica-related illnesses.

The claimants contracted silicosis while working for mines owned by Anglo American South Africa and AngloGold Ashanti.

They include 4365 ex-mineworkers from South Africa, Swaziland and Lesotho “who may be suffering from silica-related occupational lung diseases as a result of the failure by the mines to ensure adequate protection against the disease for their mineworkers”. “Qubeka” is an isiXhosa word meaning “go forward”.

The trust was established with the sole purpose of distributing the R395 m settlement won by the attorneys representing the claimants in the compensation action. This was separate from the class-action suit under way against various South African mining companies.

Qubeka Trust chairperson Sophia Kisting-Cairncross said the R102m awarded to claimants on November 30 was a significant achievement, particularly given that locating many of the original claimants had been difficult, because many contact numbers were no longer valid.

“The assessment process, as set out in the trust deed, is a complex one, which begins with the need for a comprehensive medical evaluation of each claimant aimed at establishing that he, in fact, suffers from silicosis,” she said.

The trust has partnered with a number of local healthcare service providers to allow the majority of claimants living in rural areas easy access to the required medical assessments.

Of the 4365 claimants, about 2350 have undergone the medical assessments, but fewer than half have been determined to be suffering from silicosis, the trust said.

Kisting-Cairncross said: “To qualify for compensation, claimants who are suffering from silicosis must be able to prove that they spent at least two years working in an AngloGold or Anglo American mine in order to be eligible for a payment.

“But the trustees have found that employment record-keeping by the mines has generally been found to be very poor, which quite significantly complicates this step of the process.”