Most silicosis claimants living in poverty, say lawyers

Johannesburg- Lawyers representing mineworkers who contracted pulmonary diseases while working underground said it would be difficult to quantify the exact number of possible claimants to be covered in the R5bn settlement.

“There hasn’t been a study to give a clear indication of how many former mineworkers out there have been affected by silicosis or tuberculosis,” said lawyer Richard Spoor during a media briefing in Johannesburg.

“The numbers are huge,” he said.

The claimants are said to be scattered in far-flung towns and villages across southern Africa, with the majority of them living in poverty.

“Approximately 5 000 claimants have since died,” said Spoor.

The trust which will administer the funds would be open for a period of 12 years, to allow claimants to be screened.

Companies which are part of the agreement are African Rainbow Minerals, Anglo American SA, AngloGold Ashanti, Gold Fields, Harmony and Sibanye-Stillwater.  The lawyers did not reveal how much each firm contributed towards the settlement amount.

"Amounts payable by each company will be determined according to claims by former employees of each of them. Should there be shortfalls in any year, an additional amount may be requested," said a statement.

There claimants will be divided into ten categories based on the severity of their condition, and they will have to have worked in these companies from March 12 1965 to date.

The defendants of workers who died from tuberculosis or silicosis who worked underground would also be covered, following a screening process to prove the cause of death.

“We were under pressure to settle this case quickly but not compromise on the level of settlement,” said Spoor.

Lawyers said some 32 companies were initially cited in the action, but the number has since fallen to nine, as some have undergone restructuring or ceased to exist.

New cases of silicosis infections in gold mines have significantly dropped since 2008, due to improved safety levels underground.

Shares in the gold mining firms that agreed to the out of court settlement reacted mixed on Thursday, with DRDGOLD gaining 1.64% to R3.10, Harmony Gold adding 0.87% to R26.61, and Gold Fields gaining 0.12% to R49.65.

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