A Johannesburg High Court on Friday approved a groundbreaking 5 billion rand ($353 million) class action settlement on behalf of miners who contracted tuberculosis, silicosis and other chronic lung diseases through their work in the mines.
The settlement follows a long legal battle by miners to be compensated for illnesses they say they contracted over decades because of negligence in health and safety.
The initial motion was filed by Richard Spoor on Dec. 21, 2012, in South Gauteng High Court (Johannesburg, South Africa), requesting class certification of more than 15,000 prospective class members.
Few class actions have been brought in South Africa and none for sick workers prior to this litigation.
The agreement creates a Trust to compensate all eligible workers who worked in defendant companies’ mines from 1965 to date. The settlement includes a significant budget for the Trust to locate potential class members, medically examine eligible miners and provide compensation to all qualifying class members. The settlement is not a limited fund or fixed amount. The companies have agreed to compensate all eligible claimants.
“This litigation has always been about providing a means to justice and meaningful compensation for the thousands of sub-Saharan African gold miner workers and their dependents,” said Motley Rice attorney Michael Elsner, who has been a consultant in the South Africa litigation since the beginning.
“All the parties made an effort to ensure that the settlement agreement is reasonable, adequate and fair,” the High Court said in its judgement.
The gold producers agreed in May last year to the settlement but it needed to be approved by the Johannesburg High Court before being implemented.
The class action suit was launched in 2012 on behalf of miners suffering from silicosis, an incurable disease caused by inhaling silica dust from gold-bearing rocks.
It causes shortness of breath, a persistent cough and chest pains, and also makes people highly susceptible to tuberculosis.
It has been estimated that one in four gold miners in South Africa suffers from silicosis, a debilitating and incurable disease that has been called an epidemic. Approval of a class action structure for the victims of the silicosis epidemic would be an unprecedented means of recovery for South Africa.
The companies involved are Harmony Gold, Gold Fields, African Rainbow Minerals ARIJ.J, Sibanye-Stillwater SGLJ.J, AngloGold Ashanti and Anglo American South Africa. The latter no longer has gold assets but historically was a bullion producer.