JOHANNESBURG – On behalf of nearly half million miners who contracted the fatal lung diseases silicosis and tuberculosis because of working underground, South Africa’s High Court gave the green light on Friday for class action suits seeking damages from gold firms.
Judge Phineas Mojapelo said the suit also covers those who have died from the disease, where all sort of damages are to be paid for their families, noting that his decision sets the stage for protracted proceedings in the largest class action suits in Africa’s most industrialized country.
Mojapelo stated that each mining company will and should be held liable separately for any damages the workers are subjected to and will also be held responsible for their own actions for unlawful emissions, adding “We hold the view that in the context of this case, class action is the only realistic option through which most mine workers can assert their claims effectively against the mining companies.”
The disease is the outcome of inhaling silica dust from gold-bearing rocks, leading to shortness of breath, along with a persistent cough and chest pains.
On the other side, defendants in the case embrace some of the world’s biggest bullion producers, including global mining firm Anglo American , Africa’s top bullion producer AngloGold Ashanti , Gold Fields, Harmony Gold, Sibanye Gold and African Rainbow Minerals (ARM), all of which have together formed the Occupational Lung Disease (OLD) Working Group to deal with such issues.
The claims that are far from new include thousands of former miners from neighboring countries such as Lesotho, Malawi and Swaziland, which is why Anglo American has been named in the claims. Noting that Anglo American no longer has any interests in gold mining, and ARM no longer operates gold mines.
Friday’s ruling is separate from a $30 million silicosis settlement with 4,400 miners reached in March by Anglo American and AngloGold.