Miners win legal battle against companies
Nearly 20 years after he was diagnosed with silicosis, Binyana Benson Qubeka will on Saturday walk into the Human Rights conference room in Braamfontein to reveal details of a landmark R500 million settlement he and thousands of other sickly mineworkers fought for against Anglo American.
The trust that will be set up under the settlement agreement is to be named “Q(h)ubeka” which means “go forward” in Xhosa – to honour the thousands of ailing claimants who have struggled for decades without proper compensation from mining companies, say his lawyers.
One of the lead claimants in the litigation, Qubeka was diagnosed with silicosis nearly 20 years ago.
He worked at AngloGold mines for 15 years and at other Anglo American operations.
On Thursday, lawyers announced that former gold miners and relatives of deceased ex-miners had reached the settlement in a long-standing legal battle against Anglo American SA and AngloGold Ashanti.
Qubeka was one of 4365 claimants who have sued the mining companies for crippling dust-related lung diseases such as silicosis and silicotuberculosis, which they maintained they contracted from working in dangerous conditions in the mines.
The two mining companies said on Thursday the settlement had been reached “without admission of liability” and that the terms of the agreement remained confidential.
Nor are these claims related to the wide-ranging silicosis certification class action lawsuit led by human rights attorney Richard Spoor that is pending in the Joburg High Court.
“The epidemic of silicosis and TB has caused widespread suffering and misery for ex-miners, their families and communities,” said Zanele Mbuyisa, of Mbuyisa Neale attorneys, which is representing the claimants.
“Sick ex-miners have effectively been left on the scrapheap by the mines and thousands of silicosis victims must have died uncompensated during a period when the industry should have been well aware of their predicament and its cause.”
Mbuyisa said a six-week trial had been scheduled for April.
“Based on the evidence amassed and the powerful support from an array of eminent experts we were confident of winning. However, continuing with the litigation, rather than settling, would have meant a further substantial delay in receipt of compensation, which the claimants and their families cannot afford.”
Richard Meeran from human rights attorneys, Leigh Day, termed the settlement a “triumph for justice and accountability.
This settlement scheme provides a model and, we hope, the necessary impetus for an industry-wide settlement for all gold mining silicosis victims”.
A total of R464 million will be paid into the Q(h)ubeka Trust for distribution, while a further amount will be paid to assist the trust to enable payment of the Occupational Diseases in Mines and Works Act compensation to claimants who qualified.
Anglo American and AngloGold will fund the costs of the trust and the medical evaluations.
To qualify for compensation, claimants will need to be medically diagnosed with silicosis and to have worked on Anglo American or AngloGold mines for at least two years. Relatives of deceased claimants who meet the criteria will be included.
Payments will be based on a tariff system, which will reflect the severity of disease and age of the claimant.
Lawyers for the claimants say that the ODMWA system was “in a state of chaos: most miners cannot access a benefit medical examination facility and those who are certified with an occupational disease often have to wait years before they are paid. In addition, the amount of compensation under ODMWA is modest and does not cover pain and suffering.”
AngloAmerican South Africa and AngloGold Ashanti “promised to use their best efforts” to ensure payment under ODMWA.
The firms said yesterday the agreement “resolves fully and finally 4400 stand alone silicosis claims”.
Included in these claims were about 1 200 separate claims, instituted against AngloGold Ashanti.
Andile Sanqu, the executive head of Anglo American SA, said the firm had “sympathy” for all miners who had contracted silicosis. “We continue to work with the industry, government and civil society to tackle the many challenges of primary and occupational healthcare in South Africa.”