S.Africa gold miners to sign silicosis lawsuit settlement this week

South African gold producers are expected to sign this week a settlement in a lawsuit over fatal lung disease and tuberculosis miners contracted while working for them, ending this way the country’s largest ever class action against mining companies.

Speaking to Reuters, lawyer Richard Spoor, who represents about half a million workers and their families, said the companies would sign the out-of-court settlement as soon as Thursday.

The suit, first filed in 2012, alleges the named companies knew of the dangers silica dust posed to workers for more than a century, but did not act on it.

Miners including Harmony Gold (NYSE:HMY), Sibanye-Stillwater (NYSE:SBGL) (JSE:SGL), Gold Fields(JSE, NYSE: GFI), African Rainbow Minerals (ARM) and Anglo American (LON:AAL), are said to have set aside 5 billion rand (about $395 million) in provisions for the suit, launched in 2012 and which South Africa’s High Court allowed to proceed in 2016.

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

The claims go back decades, which explains why Anglo American, which no longer has any interests in gold mining, and ARM, which no longer operates gold mines in South Africa, were named in the suit.

Research indicates the miners caught silicosis, which has no known cure, from inhaling silica dust while drilling rock. The dust lodges in the lungs and causes permanent scars.

Symptoms include persistent coughing and shortness of breath, and the disease regularly leads to tuberculosis and death.