File picture: Phill Magakoe
JOHANNESBURG - The out of court settlement for the tuberculosis and silicosis class action brought against six gold mining companies on the Witwatersrand could be signed in the next six months, Graham Briggs, the convener of the Occupational Lung Diseases Working Group, said yesterday.

Briggs told journalists on the sidelines of the Investing in Africa Mining Indaba in Cape Town that lawyers for the mines and the former mine workers were close to signing the settlement.

“We will hopefully get the settlement signed in six months,” said Briggs, adding that this was a move to solve a 100-year-old problem.

Mining companies set aside R5billion towards compensation in November for thousands of miners who contracted TB and silicosis, a lung disease caused by the inhalation of dust containing silica, as of 1965.

Briggs said compensation for the first-degree silicosis was R45000, according to the Occupational Diseases in Mines and Works Act, while compensation for secondary silicosis was pegged at R105000.

Compensation for occupational TB is a lower number, he said.

The R5bn was a “top-up” to the R3.5bn compensation set aside by the government through the Department of Health to pay former mine workers who contracted silicosis in gold mines.

It has been reported that nearly half-a-million miners who contracted silicosis and tuberculosis are from neighbouring countries that supplied labour to South African mines.

In 2016, lawyers - including Richard Spoor and Charles Abrahams - brought the class action against Harmony Gold Mining, Gold Fields, AngloGold Ashanti, African Rainbow Minerals, Anglo American South Africa and Sibanye-Stillwater for employees who contracted TB and silicosis.

Beneficiaries

Gold mining companies came together and established the Mining Industry Working Group on Occupational Lung Diseases to handle the matter.

Briggs, a former chief executive of Harmony Gold, said the Chamber of Mines had spent a lot of money tracing beneficiaries through outreaches to villages in the Eastern Cape, Swaziland and Lesotho.

“Although you have records, you do not know where they live. People in rural areas are generally poor in terms of infrastructure. They do not have bank accounts. If it was not a problem, people would have received their money long ago,” said Briggs.

In January, lawyers from both parties postponed the court case and put in a provisional R5bn settlement following negotiations.

- BUSINESS REPORT