Mining victory: ‘The journey was paved way before we took on the case’


Public interest lawyer Charles Abrahams was there from the beginning and this week he was there to witness the victory of the class action against the mining giants.

On Thursday, he told City Press: “The mines historically thought they were immune to civil lawsuits because such would fall under the compensation fund but we held a different view. That is why there had to be a test case in 2006 against some of them which Richard [Spoor] and I set in motion on behalf of a single gold miner who had worked for AngloGold Ashanti. We lost that case … and had to take it to the Constitutional Court which unanimously agreed with us in 2011 and said there was no reason why the employee could not sue the company in addition of the statutory compensation.”

Abrahams said that judgment opened the doors for other affected former mine workers who have contracted illness.

However, even before this case, Abrahams’ firm litigated on the first class action in the country when it took on the bread price-fixing cartel on behalf of consumers.

They lost the case on the first attempt at the Cape High Court. It was only at the Supreme Court of Appeal in 2011 that a new criteria of how class actions should be brought was decided.

“The two classes are silicosis and TB and for both living and the deceased. The initial applicants were 69 but some passed away and only 48 were left,” he said, adding that almost all mining respondents had appealed that certification judgment for various reasons.

“We only claim against those companies currently in operation, whether they are historic owners or current owners of the qualifying mines. It is immaterial whether they operate in the gold sector or not anymore.”

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