On Friday, the South Gauteng High Court ruled that the case against the country’s biggest gold mines can go ahead as a class action. The court ruling came after a case was filed by miners who have been suffering from silicosis and tuberculosis (TB) as a result of their exposure to silica dust. Some claims go as far back as 1965. The application to be heard as a class action was filed in October 2015 and has been an ongoing battle for many miners.
Silicosis is a lung disease caused by breathing in tiny bits of silica dust that is from gold-bearing rocks. Long exposure to this can cause harm to the lungs and affects one’s ability to breathe. It also makes sufferers more susceptible to catching TB.
Some of South Africa’s biggest mining companies are the respondents this case – Harmony Gold, Gold Fields, AngloGold Ashanti, Sibanye Gold, African Rainbow Minerals and Anglo American.
Section 27’s John Stephens told The Daily Vox that the class action could go one of two ways when it comes to dealing with mining companies. “The mining companies have a major incentive to settle the case or they proceed to trial.”
The mine workers are represented by Richard Spoor Attorneys, Abrahams Kiewitz Attorneys, and the Legal Resources Centre. Section27, the Treatment Action Campaign and Sonke Gender Justice intervened as friends of the court and brought additional evidence to aid the applicants’ case.
The case is unique because all the miners affected come from poor backgrounds. Stephens says that mining companies were aware of this, and that is why they are defending the class action. “The mining companies did not want a class action because they knew that individual mine workers wouldn’t be able to sue because they don’t have the resources.”
The class action will be a breakthrough for thousands of miners as they have been suffering for many years, and they and their families will now get a chance at receiving compensation. It is reported that legal papers for the class action will be served on the mining companies in 2017.