File Picture. Petrus Saayman
Seriti Resources, the mining group on the verge of becoming Eskom’s biggest coal supplier, has been warned that it could soon find itself in a class action lawsuit storm.

Lawyer Richard Spoor has revealed that South African Energy Coal (SAEC), which Seriti was about to acquire, is one of four coal mining companies against which a class litigation is in the process.

The litigation would aim to secure compensation for occupational diseases suffered by more than 1000 retired coal mineworkers.

It was announced by the Catholic Church in South Africa, against the backdrop of a historic R5billion settlement in the class action lawsuits pursued on behalf of gold mineworkers.

Thousands of gold sector workers who developed silicosis or pulmonary tuberculosis during or after their employment from 1965 stand to be paid between R70000 and R500000.

Announcing the latest lawsuit, SA Catholic Bishops Conference director Father Stan Muyebe said the church was working with Richard Spoor Attorneys “to demand compensation from coal mines on behalf of former mine workers who contracted deadly lung diseases in the coal mines”.

Spoor was also a leading lawyer in the class action against the gold mines.

Speaking to The Star, Spoor said he hoped that Seriti was aware of the impending litigation as it negotiated with the Australian group South32 for transfer of its SAEC assets.

South32 announced last month that it had entered into exclusive negotiations with Seriti for transfer of SAEC assets. South32 was divesting from South Africa.

SAEC’s mines are in eMalahleni (Witbank) and Middelburg, Mpumalanga. It supplies 14% of Eskom’s coal through these mines.

Spoor urged Seriti, an 84% black-owned mining company, to take the planned litigation into cognisance.

“We don’t know the terms of the agreement they are negotiating. But I am assuming that Seriti has done a proper risk assessment and that they are aware of the liability,” said Spoor.

“We definitely don’t want them to come and argue later that ‘we didn’t know, we weren’t aware and that it’s not our problem’,” Spoor said.

A Seriti spokesperson said the company was considering all of SAEC’s liabilities as it continued negotiations with South32.

“Seriti is not inheriting anything. It is currently negotiating to acquire the SAEC assets. There is no transaction yet in place.

Spoor said “good progress” had been made towards finally bringing the class action lawsuit to court.

“It’ll still be a little while before we issue out our papers, but it’s going well. We’re confident that we’ve got a large client base (for a class lawsuit),” he said.

“We’re busy working through the medical information. We’ve done the research on the companies.” @BonganiNkosi