Court to decide on approval of historic silicosis settlement case

The Johannesburg High Court will rule on Friday whether a historic silicosis settlement agreement of R5bn should be approved after submissions were made in May.

The decision will be handed down at 10:00.

The agreement, on behalf of thousands of mineworkers and their dependents, affects people who contracted silicosis or pulmonary tuberculosis during or after being employed as gold miners from March 1965.

The legal documents describe the case as one of the “most complex multi-party class action settlements ever concluded”.

The six mining companies paying out the collective R5bn formed the occupational Lung Disease (OLD) Working Group, which represented African Rainbow Minerals‚ Anglo American SA‚ AngloGold Ashanti‚ Gold Fields‚ Harmony and Sibanye Stillwater.

The mining companies admit that in the past they failed to take necessary precautions to protect their employees from the Sicilia dust that rises from the gold mines.

Miners and the dependents of deceased miners were represented by various lawyers, including Richard Spoor and the Legal Resources Centre.

Four categories of claims

In a historic judgement in May, 2016 the case was certified as a class-action suit by the high court. In December 2018 the court declared four classes of claimants;

  • people who contracted silicosis or were exposed to silica dust,
  • the dependents of deceased miners who fell ill with silicosis,
  • people suffering from tuberculosis, and
  • the dependents of deceased miners who contracted tuberculosis.

The claimants will be paid out between R70 000 and R500 000, depending on which of the four categories they fall into.

The benefits will be paid through the Tshiamiso Trust, set up specifically for this purpose. It will receive R845m to identify and locate eligible mineworkers and dependents, and will assess, process and pay their claims.

This is a mammoth task as many miners and their families are scattered across SA and neighbouring countries.

The trust will receive claims for a period of 12 years and will operate for an additional year to finalise any outstanding claims that were lodged with it.

The LRC’s legal papers state that a Trust Advisory Committee will be established to oversee the disbursement of the funds. It will include representatives from government, trade unions, community leaders, NGOs, and others.

Extensive efforts have been made to advise miners of the settlement agreement and they had an opportunity to object to this process, according to the LRC.

Attempts to contact former and current gold miners included the establishment of a call centre, the publication of notices in newspapers, radio and online in several languages.

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