Lawsuit for miners with terminal illnesses begins
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Johannesburg - Civil society organisations say they will present a strong case in a bid to fight for mineworkers and their families left destitute as a result of contracting terminal diseases when a hearing starts on Monday.
The organisations – Sonke Gender Justice, the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) and Section27 – have since been admitted as friends of the court in the gold mining silicosis lawsuit. In addition to silicosis, some of the miners have contracted tuberculosis.
The case was originally brought by former miner Bongani Nkala and 55 against others against Harmony Gold Mining Company. The Nkala case would represent thousands of gold miners from as far back as 1956.
The high court in Joburg will on Monday hear the TAC, Sonke and Section27 arguments in the first three days of the hearing.
Thereafter, 32 mining companies will also present their arguments until October 23. The lawsuit was filed by Richard Spoor Attorneys, Abrahams Kiewitz Attorneys and the Legal Resources Centre against 32 gold mining companies.
There are two class actions; one will represent current and former gold miners with silicosis and dependants of those who have died as result of the disease. The other represents current and former gold miners who have or contracted pulmonary tuberculosis and the dependants of deceased underground mineworkers who died of pulmonary tuberculosis.
Section27’s attorney, Umunyana Rugege, said their interest was to protect the families of the mineworkers who shoulder a significant part of the care burden of occupationally acquired silicosis and TB, “particularly women and girls who bear a disappropriate share of this burden”.
Rugege said the case would “advance the interest of justice more broadly by ensuring that judicial resources are used optimally”.
This, he said, should be done by avoiding the need to litigate the same issues in separate proceedings. “It is in the interests of justice that these common issues be decided in a single action,” she said.
Rugege said it was important that the class action was the starting point that would allow the case to proceed to the point where common issues could be separated from individual issues.
Tanya Charles, policy specialist at Sonke Gender Justice, said they hoped to assist thousands of miners, not only from South Africa, but from neighbouring countries such as Lesotho and Swaziland.
“Should this class action be successful, it would set a great precedent. It would mean a victory for many miners who have been left destitute by mining houses.”
The mining houses had opposed the organisations’ request to be admitted as friends of the court.
If successful, the lawsuit could benefit thousands of former mineworkers and their dependants.
On the second day of the hearing, the organisations plan to mobilise over 1 000 protesters to picket in the Joburg CBD.