Mine class action could start soon
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More than 300 000 retired gold mine workers, who contracted silicosis or tuberculosis (TB) during or after their employment in the industry, were pushing for the start of a multibillion-rand class action next year, lawyer Richard Spoor said on Friday.
He said the class action would be against AngloGold Ashanti, Barrick Gold Africa, DRDGold, Gold Fields, Harmony Gold, JCI Gold, Randgold & Exploration, Rand Uranium, African Rainbow Minerals and Pamodzi Gold.
The retired miners from across South Africa and neighbouring countries could receive billions in compensation.
The case would represent all employees who contracted silicosis in local mines from the 1950s onwards, as well as the widows and estates of workers who contracted tuberculosis.
Spoor said it was standard practice for the companies to dismiss workers once they had contracted silicosis. This was most unfortunate as workers then lost their income and incurred medical debts they could in no way afford.
“South African mining companies are responsible for the burden of the staggering number of TB cases in southern Africa, they are also responsible for silicosis among employees.”
Spoor, who has teamed up with US-based firm Motley Rice, said NGOs based in the areas of the miners’ origins had been providing information for the “mammoth undertaking”.
“Statistics show that the mining industry has not protected its employees. We are doing this (class action) because it is the only way that we can address legacy issues.”
Spoor said there was currently a process of clarification under way, as the lawyers were seeking confirmation from the courts on whether they could proceed with the action.
On Wednesday a group of 450 former gold mine workers lodged papers in the London High Court claiming Anglo American South Africa did not properly protect them from dust and that this led to them contracting silicosis or TB.
Earlier this year the Constitutional Court ruled in favour of an AngloGold Ashanti employee, Thembekile Mankayi, which allowed him to sue the Anglo American group company for contracting silicosis. The ruling has opened the way for retired mineworkers to sue companies for contracting lung diseases on the mines.
Analysts said that the judge on the Mankayi case acknowledged the right of the individuals to lodge claims and also noted that the compensation measures in the mining industry were not sufficient.
In 2001 Gencor, a South African company that took over some of Cape plc’s South African asbestos operations when Cape left the country in 1979, had to compensate 7 500 claimants who contracted asbestos-related diseases.
In May a judge decided that mines would have to assume responsibility for deficits in the Compensation Fund for miners with pulmonary disease.