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Silicosis: Clarity on Q(h)ubeka Trust payouts

May 22 2016 16:20
Eugenie du Preez

A mine worker stirs molten gold in a furnace before casting. T ransfer pricing and profit shifting by multinationals inside and outside SA compromises empowerment partners, workers, communities and the country’s economy (Simon Dawson / Bloomberg / Getty Images)

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Cape Town - Law firm Leigh Day has clarified how the Q(h)ubeka Trust will pay compensation to sick former gold miners after a landmark settlement was reached in the mineworkers' long-running legal battle against Anglo American South Africa [JSE:AGL] and AngloGold Ashanti [JSE:ANG].

The Q(h)ubeka Trust is the product of the silicosis settlement reached by Leigh Day and Mbuyisa Neale on March 4 on behalf of 4 365 ex-gold miners (and relatives of deceased ex-miners) who sued Anglo American and AngloGold Ashanti.  

It was named Q(h)ubeka - meaning ‘go forward’ in Xhosa - in honour of the thousands of claimants who have struggled for decades without proper compensation from the mining companies.

The 4 365 claimants sued the mining companies for dust-related lung diseases, silicosis and silico-tuberculosis, which they claim were contracted from working in unsafe conditions in the mines. The claims were instituted from 2012 and are completely separate from the silicosis class action proceedings currently under way.

In a statement issued on Friday, Leigh Day expressed concern at what it termed "public misstatements speculating on the amounts to be paid to individual claimants" by the Q(h)ubeka Trust.

"Such misinformation is unhelpful, especially to the victims concerned. It is also unhelpful to use this incorrect information as a reference point for assessing compensation that might be appropriate in the silicosis class action," said Leigh Day, referring to a separate ruling clearing the way for mineworkers to launch a silicosis class action suit against mining companies.

It pointed out that the total settlement amount to be paid into the trust will be about R500m, and that Anglo American and  AngloGold Ashanti will fund the operation of the trust.    

The settlement amount will be divided among those of the 4 365 claimants who are confirmed by the trust to have or have had silicosis. However, it is incorrect to divide this total sum by the total number of claimants in the group to reach an average award of R115 000, said Leigh Day.

Although the vast majority of the claimants have not yet been evaluated by the trust's medical panel, it is anticipated that up to 60% of them will be found to have silicosis. The total amount of the settlement will not be affected by the number of confirmed silicosis cases, and the medical panel will examine and test the claimants in the localities where they live.

The amount of compensation paid out to individual claimants will depend on how many are found to have silicosis/silico-tuberculosis, the breakdown of the severity of the disease among them, and the severity of the disease and the age of each individual.
 
This means that each claimant found to have silicosis will receive a different amount, and not an average figure. And although each qualifying claimant will receive an initial payment from the trust following the medical evaluation, the final amount due to each can only be determined after the whole group has been medically evaluated. 

"Consequently, save to say that we anticipate that up to 60% of the group may be confirmed as having silicosis, we will not comment, publicly, on likely individual awards," said Leigh Day.

It expects the whole process to take three to four years.

In a separate court case, the South Gauteng High Court on May 13 ruled that mineworkers could launch a silicosis class action suit against mining companies. It was delivering judgment in the historic Silicosis Class Action, Bongani Nkala and 55 others v Harmony Gold Mining Company Ltd and 31 others.

READ: Silicosis: Landmark judgment for mineworkers

“We have reached the consensus that there are sufficient common issues to justify the class action. There will be two classes (for silicosis and for tuberculosis)," said Deputy Judge President Phineas Mojapelo.

The judgment makes this the largest class action to ever be certified in South Africa, allowing hundreds of thousands of gold miners and their families to access justice and redress.


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