Lawsuit looms against gold mining houses

Another possible legal suit against South African mining houses loomed on Wednesday when a British legal firm announced its representation of former gold mineworkers.

The miners are claiming compensation from mining companies for allegedly contracting silicosis and pthysis (silicosis with tuberculosis) in their mines.

Richard Meeran from the London-based law firm Leigh, Day & Co confirmed on Wednesday that they were registering potential claimants.

The firm successfully assisted South African miners suffering from asbestosis to claim from Cape plc and Thor Chemicals.

When asked how many silicosis and pthysis sufferers were involved, Meeran said they could be at least as many—or even more—than the asbestosis claimants.

He foresaw registering claimants countrywide, and even across South African borders in Lesotho and Botswana, where migrant workers lived.

Meeran said they were “very keen” on constructive dialogue with the mining houses, aimed at an out-of-court settlement agreement. The companies seriously needed to consider establishing a substantial compensation scheme, and he would be inviting them to discuss this with the legal team.

“In the meantime we shall continue our investigations with a view to instigating legal proceedings in the near future should the companies adopt an intransigent attitude.”

He said the country’s gold mining companies should have been expecting claims against them since the Cape plc and Gencor cases. Silicosis and pthysis have been recognised in South Africa for almost a century.

“I am surprised that they have managed to get away with this for so long,” Meeran said.

There were striking similarities between the asbestosis and silicosis issues, he explained.
Both diseases were caused by the inhalation of excessive levels of dust arising from mining operations. Both could cause debilitating and even fatal respiratory diseases.

The evidence of negligence on the part of both asbestos and gold mining industries was overwhelming and shocking, Meeran said. He said although asbestosis, silicosis and pthysis were compensatable under the Occupational Diseases, Mines and Works Act, the legislation did not provide any compensation for “pain and

suffering”.

Meeran has met this week with former mineworkers in Welkom on the Free State Gold Fields. The meeting was organised by the Bond Victims’ Association, a local support group for silicosis and pthysis sufferers.

According to group leader Dan Mofokeng several hundred people attended.

Meeran said on Wednesday they would have fairly intensive discussions with potential claimants from now on.

The Welkom miners were employed at various gold mines in the area, with most of them now being owned by Anglo Gold.

Other major companies which did gold mining in the Welkom area included Goldfields and Harmony.

Anglogold spokesperson Steve Lenahan said it was difficult to comment as they had not yet been officially notified of any claim.

The Occupational Diseases, Mines and Works Act both enabled miners to claim compensation and protected mining companies from civil suits, he said.

The companies assisted suffering workers to claim from the state-run fund and provided extensive healthcare services in both urban and rural areas, Lenahan said.

A representative from the Chamber of Mines could not be reached for comment. - Sapa

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