Stubborn Cape dragged back to court

Lawyers for thousands of South Africans suffering from asbestos-related diseases are to return to the English High Court on Tuesday in a renewed bid for compensation.

They would be seeking the court’s permission to have mining giant Gencor and United-Kingdom-based Charter joined as defendants in the victims’ suit against Cape plc, lawyer Richard Meeran said on Monday.

They would also seek a clear statement from Cape on how it planned to settle the claims, failing which they would ask the judge for ”directions to take us through to trial”.

Meeran said Cape had failed to honour the out-of-court settlement reached with victims in December 2001, in terms of which Cape was to pay compensation of UK21-million (about R340,4-million). Of this, UK11-million (about R178,3-million) was supposed to have been paid by June 30 this year.

The deadline passed without payment, and though the claimants’ lawyers set another deadline of September 14, this also passed unheeded. This meant the settlement proposals had now lapsed, Meeran said.

”Tomorrow we want Cape to say in court what it is they are proposing and when it’s going to happen,” he said. ”If they are contending they want to settle the claim, we want them to state publicly how they intend to do this and when, and then we can consider the position. As things presently stand we have very little clarity as to what they are proposing.”

Cape Plc mined asbestos in the Northern Cape and Limpopo for 90 years up to 1979. Thousands of people have been suffering from asbestos-related diseases since, and about 7 000 instituted a claim for compensation against the company.

Meeran said Gencor was being joined not only because it bought Cape in 1981, but also because of its own asbestos-mining activities through its subsidiary Gefco.

Charter had been Cape’s parent company from 1963 to the 1990s, and had shared directors with it. Although there was now some doubt about whether Cape could pay, Gencor and Charter were wealthy companies. The lawyers are also challenging Gencor’s unbundling, which they fear will leave inadequate provision for claims. – Sapa

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Ben Maclennan
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