JOHANNESBURG – Anglo American South Africa (Aasa) is being sued in a class action filed on behalf of more than 100 000 residents of Zambia’s Kabwe district who were believed to have been poisoned by lead.
Mbuyisa Moleele and Leigh Day attorneys said yesterday that they had filed the class-action lawsuit in the hight court in Gauteng.
Leigh Day attorneys is no stranger to class lawsuits and was involved in the silicosis litigation against the mining firm. In 2018, Anglo and five other companies paid about R5 billion to settle the lawsuit.
Aasa said on Wednesday that it noted the reports of the class action, and the company would defend its position.
The lawsuit alleges that Aasa, which managed and controlled the Kabwe lead mine between 1925 and 1974, was liable for substantial emissions of lead into the local environment due to deficiencies in the design and systems of operation and control of the lead that Aasa failed to ensure were rectified.
The class action also claims Aasa failed to ensure the clean-up of the communities’ contaminated land and alleged that, according to experts, about two-thirds of the lead currently in the local environment was likely to have been deposited there between 1925 and 1974. Kabwe was one of the world’s most productive lead mines during this time.
The mining operation was transferred to ZCCM, a Zambian state-owned company, in 1974.
The claimants are seeking compensation for children under 18, as well as girls and women who have been, or may, become pregnant in the future.
They also want blood lead screening for children and pregnant women in Kabwe, and a clean-up of the area to ensure that the health of future generations of children and pregnant women is not jeopardised.
Partner at Mbuyisa Moleele, Zanele Mbuyisa, said Aasa had to take responsibility for the environmental and social impact of the mine.
“Aasa is considered a mining giant that has been instrumental in building the economies of various countries, but it also has to be acknowledged that their operations have caused the decimation of communities and long-lasting damage to the health of those communities,” said Mbuyisa.
According to the attorneys, the claimants – mainly young children – were suffering from alarming levels of lead poisoning which, depending on various factors, including the blood lead level, causes a range of significant conditions, from psychological, intellectual and behavioural damage to serious and permanent physical damage to their bodily organs, neurological systems and fertility.
In extreme cases, serious brain damage and deaths occur.
In pregnant women, the lead they ingested as children was absorbed into their bones and released during pregnancy. Women were also exposed to lead during pregnancy from the surrounding environment.
Richard Meeran, a partner and head of the international department at Leigh Day, said from the 1950s Anglo American publicly committed to making a lasting contribution to communities in which it operated.
“Its current human rights policy is to contribute to remediation when its business has contributed to adverse human rights impacts. This ongoing public health disaster is the result of a flagrant disregard for the health of the local community, which is totally at odds with those grand public pronouncements,” Meeran said.
In response to the lawsuit, Anglo American said: “The company will review the claims made and will take all necessary steps to vigorously defend its position,” said the group.
Anglo American said it was one of several investors in the company that owned the Kabwe mine until the early 1970s.
“Anglo American was, however, at all times, far from being a majority owner. Furthermore, in the early 1970s, the company that owned the mine was nationalised by the government of Zambia and for more than 20 years. Thereafter, the mine was operated by a state-owned body until its closure in 1994,” Anglo American said.
Anglo shares closed 0.22 percent lower at R422.25 on the JSE on Wednesday.