A group of more than 31 miners took on AngloGold Ashanti at the South Gauteng High Court yesterday as they sought to gain compensation for lung diseases allegedly contracted while they were employed by the company between 1968 and 2008.
The mineworkers claim that they contracted silicosis and silico-tuberculosis after they were exposed to excessive dust at the Vaal Reefs gold mine.
According to experts involved in the case, silicosis is caused by a mineral called silica, which is a constituent of the earth’s crust.
When inhaled, the dust reaches the depths of the lungs and causes scarring, which shrinks the lungs and impairs the transfer of oxygen, ultimately leading to heart failure.
The disease also leads to tuberculosis, chronic bronchitis and emphysema. In addition, infected individuals do not die from the silicosis, but from the tuberculosis that is superimposed on the damage done by the silicosis.
The Leon Commission of 1995 found that the dust levels in South African mines had not changed for more than 50 years, and claimed that this presented an increased and unnecessary risk of silicosis and a high tuberculosis rate due to the failure to process data.
The miners are being represented by Zanele Mbuyisa, a Johannesburg-based attorney who is being assisted by Leigh Day, a London-based law firm.
Mbuyisa told Business Report that the firm had started representing 31 miners, but since the legal proceedings had got under way, the attorneys had been inundated with more individuals seeking to take action against AngloGold.
Claims from the miners ranged from R500 000 to R7 million and the claimants were seeking compensation for loss of income, medical costs and damages, she added.
Alan Fine, the public affairs manager at AngloGold, said the company would not comment because it had not yet received the papers from the law firm.
“When we get them, we will study and consider them, then we will have something more to say,” Fine said.
Mbuyisa said the attorneys had launched a claim in the court, which would issue the papers. These would be taken to the Sheriff to serve on AngloGold, she said.
“We have been working extensively in the communities in the Eastern Cape, Lesotho and the Free State, which have been devastated by the impact of silicosis and tuberculosis.
“The ex-miners have been effectively abandoned by the industry and the vast majority have not even received the modest levels of statutory compensation to which they are entitled,” she added.
Richard Meeran, a partner at Leigh Day, said the mining giant had “patently failed” to protect employees against excessive dust exposure.
“It is high time that Anglo American and AngloGold set about establishing a settlement scheme to alleviate the suffering of the former miners and their families,” he said.
While other former mineworkers were expected to join the litigation, it would not be a class action, Meeran said.