Johannesburg - Lawyers representing gold miners suffering
from the deadly lung disease silicosis said on Thursday they had filed a class
action lawsuit application against the South African arm of global mining giant
Anglo American [JSE:AGL].
The application by the legal groups from South Africa and Britain
is the latest in several class action suits being lined up against South
Africa's once mighty gold mining industry.
It is likely to be several months before a judge rules
whether the case can proceed.
Anglo American, which switched its headquarters from
Johannesburg to London in 1999, no longer has gold mines in South Africa but
the lawyers said its Johannesburg-based unit still had assets of around $15bn.
The lawyers include London's Leigh Day and South Africa's
Legal Resources Centre, a practice focusing on human rights.
They allege that Anglo American South Africa was the parent
company of 11 gold mines up until 1998 and that it "negligently controlled
and advised its mines with regard to prevention of dust exposure and
The class action application stems from a case first lodged
in 2004 by 18 ex-gold miners who said they contracted silicosis at Anglo's
President Steyn mine in the Free State province. At least three of these men
have since died.
The two sides agreed last year to go to arbitration, with a
hearing chaired by former chief justice Sandile Ngcobo now expected early next
Anglo American said it needed to study the latest legal
move, but reiterated its previous denials of any wrong-doing.
"Overall Anglo American does not believe it is in any
way liable for the silicosis claims and will defend those actions,"
spokesperson Pranill Ramchander said.
The case is separate from a silicosis class action bid filed
in December against AngloGold Ashanti [JSE:ANG], Gold Fields [JSE:GFI] and
Harmony Gold Mining Company [JSE:HAR] and Anglo American South Africa on behalf
of 17 000 former miners.
Silicosis, which has no known cure, is contracted by
inhaling tiny particles of silica dust from gold-bearing rocks over many years
underground without adequate protection.
The disease causes shortness of breath, a persistent cough
and chest pains. It also makes people highly susceptible to tuberculosis, which
Tens of thousands of black miners from South Africa and
neighbouring countries are believed to have contracted silicosis during the
decades of white-minority rule, when their health and safety were not
priorities of the country's gold barons.
If successful, the suits could cost the mining firms
billions of dollars, according to legal and industry experts.
The largest settlement to date by the mining industry in
South Africa was $100m in 2003 in a case brought against an asbestos