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Silicosis: Landmark judgment for mineworkers

May 13 2016 09:48
Mpho Raborife, News24

The High Court in Johannesburg ahead of the silicosis class action judgment. (Mpho Raborife, News24)

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Johannesburg – In a landmark judgment, the South Gauteng High Court ruled in favour of mineworkers’ to launch a silicosis class action suit against mining companies.

“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 TB)," Deputy Judge President Phineas Mojapelo told the court on Friday morning.

“All the mining companies are accused of failing to protect the health of the employees when they were legally bound to do so and as a result causing (the mine workers) to contract TB and silicosis," Mojapelo said.

He said although the mine workers had developed silicosis or TB – both potentially fatal lung diseases - at different stages, many of them had made similar claims and those claims had been made simultaneously. He said all the mineworkers had contracted the diseases from inhaling silica dust.

He says the certification of the class action would not be dependent on the outcomes of each individual miner’s case.

"It can't be overlooked that the case of all mineworkers may not be finalised on a case of one common issue."

Mojapelo says the court's decision to grant the case a class action certification is because there is similar evidence and it would also be more economical.

"Mineworkers correctly point out that the evidence they referred to would have to be repeated in each individual case many times over. It is neither economic nor affordable for him to bring his trial action in his individual capacity," Mojapelo said.

"The class action trial will deal with all the evidence at once, it has to be borne in mind that if ech individual trial had to be held, the findings would remain case specific."

He was delivering judgment in the historic Silicosis Class Action, Bongani Nkala and 55 others v Harmony Gold Mining Company Ltd and 31 others.

The judgment means this is the largest class action to ever be certified in South Africa and it allows hundreds of thousands of gold miners and their families to access justice and redress.

On March 5 this year, former gold miners and relatives of deceased ex-miners have reached a similar landmark settlement of their long-running legal battle against Anglo American South Africa and AngloGold Ashanti.

The 4 365 claimants in that case 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 were completely separate from the silicosis class action proceedings ruled on on Friday.

The overall value of the Qubeka settlement was estimated to be more than R500m. Binyana Benson Qubeka, one of the lead claimants in the litigation, worked at AngloGold mines for 15 years and at other Anglo American operations for 10 years and was diagnosed with silicosis in 1998.

gauteng  |  silicosis  |  mining
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