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Spoor files class action lawsuit against Anglo American on behalf of coal miners

Human rights attorney and activist Richard Spoor. File picture: Paballo Thekiso

Human rights attorney and activist Richard Spoor. File picture: Paballo Thekiso

Published Oct 25, 2023


Human rights lawyer Richard Spoor has filed another class action lawsuit in the High Court in Gauteng against coal mining companies owned or formerly owned by Anglo American, on behalf of former coal miners who contracted coal mine dust lung disease while working in their mines.

In a statement, Spoor said the suit was a significant attempt to address the historical issues faced by coal miners who had unfortunately not been compensated for their hardships.

Spoor said the application for certification of a class action is being brought against nine mining companies owned, or formerly owned by the Anglo American Group, which are: Anglo American Inyosi Coal, Anglo American South Africa Limited, Butsanani Energy Investment Holdings, Mafube Coal Mining, Rietvlei Mining, South Africa Coal Operations, Thungela Operations, Thungela Resources Holdings, Thungela Resources Limited.

Anglo American said it was informed that Richard Spoor Incorporated (RSI) filed legal action on behalf of former coal miners.

"We have not yet been served with the application. Once we do, we will study its content and consider our position," it said.

This lawsuit comes after Spoor launched a lawsuit against South32, BHP Billiton, and Seriti Power on August 15, 2023, to bring recourse to current and former coal miners, as well as dependants of deceased workers who contracted coal mine dust lung disease (CMDLD) in the form of pneumoconiosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) after exposure to coal mine dust in mines.

Spoor described Coal miners’ pneumoconiosis as a scarring or fibrosis of the lungs. COPD is a chronic lung disease that can be characterised by breathing difficulty and airflow limitations. Both pneumoconiosis and COPD caused by coal dust are wholly preventable diseases.

"Despite knowing the risks to coal miners, members of the coal mining industry failed to provide their workers with adequate training, equipment, and a safe working environment.

“It’s a process, but what we’re hoping is to grab hold of those who benefited from this neglect of miners, their family's lives, their health, and to hold them accountable in some measure,” he said.

According to Spoor, the applicants’ claim is based on delictual causes of action for the respondents’ wrongful breach of their duties to the mineworkers employed by them or who worked in their mines, under the common law, the applicable legislation, and the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa from 1996.

"The Anglo American Group’s policy places an emphasis on accountability, ensuring that any breaches are met with appropriate actions in line with both Group and local laws.

"Therefore, the global mining company should act on its promise to ensure the rights of its former employees are restored and that they receive justice and compensation in this lifetime for the damages caused to their health while working in these mines," he said.

Spoor said Motley Rice, one of the largest plaintiffs' litigation firms in the US, is acting as a consultant to the employees' legal representatives.

Former miner and applicant Ntombi Mahlangu, who worked at Anglo-owned Goedehoop Coal Mine and Greenside Coal Mine between 2002 and 2008, said she was diagnosed with Coal Mine Dust Lung Disease in May 2023.

“I was in good health for the duration of my employment at the mines. My health began to deteriorate in recent years when I began to suffer from chest pains, coughing and sneezing,”

“My health has not returned to normal despite my attempts at maintaining a healthy lifestyle. My chest has become very heavy, and the pains have worsened. I cough and wheeze a lot. I am not on any professional medical treatment, I rely on over-the-counter medication to ease the coughing and sneezing," she said.

Cardinal Stephen Brislin, the Archbishop of Cape Town who initiated the class actions, said the case which is to be brought against Anglo American, was an important endeavour to access the rights of previous employees who are suffering from debilitating coal dust diseases.

"It is incumbent on companies and employers to ensure that workers have access to protective health equipment and be given adequate training to ensure their safety. When companies fail to do so, reparation and compensation are essential in order to assist the affected workers to access health care, that they have sufficient funds for their livelihoods and that they are able to support their families.”