South Africa gold companies face massive lung disease suit

Hundreds of thousands of workers are suing 32 mining companies, including some of the world's leading gold producers in South Africa's high court.

The lawsuit first filed in 2012 resumed on Monday and seeks class action status and compensation and medical care for migrant and South African workers that have acquired silicosis, tuberculosis and other respiratory illnesses working in the country's underground gold mines over decades.

Richard Spoor, the attorney representing the miners, told Deutsche Welle a "typical victim was 20 years old and he came to the mine a young healthy man. He was physically injured and his lungs were damaged. He was unfit for further employment. He contracts that disease. He gives it to his wife. He gives it to his children."

A “typical” claimant would be 70-years-old, having worked at a mine since 1965 until about 2005 reports Mail & Guardian quoting court papers as suggesting "196 000 gold mineworkers in South Africa and 84 000 more migrant workers from neighbouring countries have silicosis. And there are an estimated 50 0000 more cases of occupational lung disease."

Last year an alliance of the gold miners, which includes Gold Fields (NYSE:GFI), AngloGold Ashanti (NYSE:AU), Anglo American South Africa, Harmony Gold Mining (NYSE:HMY) and Sibanye Gold Ltd. (NYSE:SBGL) (JSE:SGL), met with the government, labour unions and claimants’ lawyers to set up a compensation fund under current legislation rather than engaging in protracted and costly legal proceedings.

“These companies do not believe that they are liable in respect of the claims brought, and they are defending these,” the alliance said. “The companies do, however, believe that they should work together to seek a solution to this South African mining industry legacy issue.”