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Landmark silicosis ruling a 'huge relief' even if it took 15 years - lawyer

Jul 27 2019 07:30
Tehillah Niselow

The approval by the Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg for a landmark R5bn settlement with ill gold miners has been broadly welcomed by the affected parties.

"The Minerals Council would like to congratulate the parties to the settlement agreement on their collaborative and problem-solving approach, knowing that it was critical that the outcome needed to consider the needs of the potential claimants and the sustainability of the industry," CEO Roger Baxter said.

The full bench of the court's approval of the R5bn settlement agreement represented a significant step forward for thousands of miners suffering from occupational lung diseases.

The case has been dragging on since 2004 and has set a precedent for class action suits. It will affect thousands of miners and the dependents of the deceased at six gold companies who were employed in the period after March 1965.

Representing the miners were the Legal Resources Centre (LRC), Richard Spoor Inc and Abrahams Kiewitz Inc. Carina du Toit, an attorney in the constitutional litigation unit at the LRC said that Friday's judgment "is incredible in terms of the scope of litigation".

"For the LRC, this is the end of a 15-year road, it's been a massive amount of work and we are very proud," Du Toit told Fin24.

Spoor said the class settlement approval was a "huge relief" and it was as "good as we were able to do".

A group of ex gold miners who had travelled overnight from the Eastern Cape to witness the judgment stood outside the court house singing and dancing on Friday morning.

Many of them expressed happiness and hope that the landmark settlement will alleviate the pain in their chests and shortness of breath associated with silicosis.  

The parliamentary committee for mineral resources also welcomed the ruling saying justice had finally prevailed.

"Although it came late, the settlement will bring to an end a long-drawn class action case in the history of mining in South Africa."

He added that the settlement should set an example for future claims to be expedited because the current settlement came after many others have died.

Opt-out period

Over the next four weeks court approved notices will be published and broadcast in newspapers in SA and other southern African countries, and on radio stations in those areas.

The notices will inform class members of their right to opt out of the agreement.

Affected miners and their family members will then have an additional 60 days to submit their opt out forms, if they so wish, a statement from the parties to the settlement said.

Once the opt out period is over, and the settlement agreement becomes effective, the Tshiamiso Trust will start implementing the agreement. This will include the Trust tracking and tracing affected gold miners, conducting medical examinations and making the payments to eligible miners.

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