South African miners reach 5 billion silicosis settlement with mining companies

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JOHANNESBURG, May 3 (Reuters) – South African gold producers agreed a 5 billion rand  class action settlement on Thursday with law firms representing thousands of miners who contracted the fatal lung diseases silicosis and tuberculosis, officials said on Thursday.

The most far-reaching class action settlement ever reached
in South Africa follows a long legal battle by miners to win
compensation for illnesses they say they contracted over decades
because of negligence in health and safety.

The companies had already set aside the settlement amount in
provisions in previous financial statements and it should not
affect future earnings.

The class action suit was launched six years ago on behalf
of miners suffering from silicosis, an incurable disease caused
by inhaling silica dust from gold-bearing rocks.

It causes shortness of breath, a persistent cough and chest
pains, and also makes people highly susceptible to tuberculosis.

Almost all the claimants are black miners from South Africa
and neighbouring countries such as Lesotho, whom critics say
were not provided with adequate protection during and after
apartheid rule ended in 1994.

In addition to the settlement payout, there is also close to
4 billion rand in a compensation fund which companies have been
contributing to for years, which will go to affected miners or
the families of those who died from the diseases.

The companies involved are Harmony Gold, Gold
Fields, African Rainbow Minerals,
Sibanye-Stillwater, AngloGold Ashanti and
Anglo American. The latter no longer has gold assets but
historically was a bullion producer.

The companies said it was the first class-action settlement
in South Africa involving so many companies and claimants.

“The settlement is the product of commercial negotiation and
compromise, but we believe this is a beneficial settlement,”
said Carina du Toit, a lawyer with the Legal Resources Centre,
one of the law groups representing the workers.

Abrahams Kiewitz Inc and Richard Spoor Attorneys also
represented the mine workers.

“This is an historic settlement, resulting from three years
of extensive negotiations,” a statement by the working group on
Occupational Lung Disease (OLD), a group put together by the six
companies involved, said.

The parties said the compromise settlement was preferable
for all concerned rather than a lengthy and expensive litigation
process, and would enable the claimants to receive compensation
and relief for their conditions more quickly.

The settlement still needs approval by the Johannesburg High
Court before being implemented.
($1 = 12.6219 rand)
(Editing by James Macharia and Adrian Croft)