Ruling on miners' landmark case
Johannesburg - Two civic organisations were expected to find out on Tuesday whether their application to intervene in what could be a precedent-setting class action against gold mines has been a success.
On Monday, an application by Sonke Gender Justice and the Treatment Action Campaign to intervene as amici curiae (friends of the court) was brought before Deputy Judge President of the high court in Joburg, Phineas Mojapelo and Judges Bashir Vally and Leonie Windell, in the gold-mining silicosis and TB case.
The class-action lawsuit has been filed by Richard Spoor Attorneys, Abrahams Kiewitz Inc and the Legal Resources Centre against 32 gold mining companies, comprising the South African gold mining industry.
There are two classes, consisting of current and former gold miners and the dependants of those who have died as a result of silicosis, and then there are the current and former gold miners who have contracted TB and the dependants of those who have died as a result of pulmonary TB.
Silicosis is caused by the inhalation of silica dust produced during blasting operations. It is characterised by inflammation and scarring of the upper lobes of the lungs and is a latent disease, meaning it can appear years after exposure to the dust.
The case, which is set to be heard from October 12 at the same court, was brought by miner Bongani Nkala and 55 others against Harmony Gold Mining Company, among others. If successful, the class of affected miners could include hundreds of thousands of people who can benefit from the claim of compensation for their illnesses.
On Monday, advocate Adila Hassim faced tough questions from judges on whether the information the civil organisations intended to bring to the class action would be new, because there was already a “voluminous” record.
She replied that the organisations had information that would prove valuable in the class action as it would give the court a clearer picture of the social context the miners faced.
“We will also provide international perspectives, as well as affidavits to show that the primary burden (of disease) will remain that of the mineworkers and their families, secondary burden is the increased demands (the diseases have) on healthcare, and finally the burden on the society at large,” she said.
Judge Mojapelo said: “If amicus is allowed, what is the impact on the whole process, as the respondents have argued that the record is already substantial? This matter in terms of volume and timetable is going to be bigger. I’m perturbed that the main action was issued in 2012 already.”
Hassim said the organisations did not want to upset the timetable but that it was somewhat of an exaggeration to say a “whole volume” of papers would be added to the record.
Judge Mojapelo said it wasn’t an easy issue to counter-balance and that it would be undesirable to delay the hearing of the main matter.
He said Hassim would need to convince the court that the addition of the organisations as friends of the court would not upset the hearing.
The counsel for the mines opposed the application, arguing that the organisations would not be bringing anything novel or relevant to the case.
The case continues.