South African gold miners to appeal ruling in silicosis case

South Africa’s top gold mining companies will file an appeal Thursday at the Johannesburg High Court against a recent court ruling allowing the country’s biggest-ever class action to go ahead.

The firms, BDlive reports, will ask the court to reconsider its decision to let up to half a million current and former miners proceed with their multi-million-dollar suit. Through it, the workers are seeking compensation for those who contracted fatal lung diseases, mainly silicosis and tuberculosis, while working for the companies mentioned in the suit.

If the class action goes ahead, it will affect almost every gold mine in South Africa, including their parent companies, covering their conduct over the last 50 years.

Anglo American (LON:AAL), Africa's top bullion producer AngloGold Ashanti (NYSE:AU), Harmony Gold (NYSE:HMY), Gold Fields (NYSE, JSE:GFI), Sibanye Gold (NYSE:SBGL) (JSE:SGL), and African Rainbow Minerals (JSE:ARI) formed last year a group to look at compensation and medical care for workers who acquired occupational lung disease, also known as silicosis.

Earlier this month, the alliance confirmed that its members were planning to file individual applications to appeal last month’s ruling, adding that each of them had been seeking a settlement with the affected workers.

"Whilst the companies deny liability for the claims, it is nonetheless the working group’s view that a fair and sustainable settlement is preferable to long and protracted litigation," the group said in a statement.

Incurable disease

The claims go back decades, which explain why Anglo American, which no longer has any interests in gold mining, and African Rainbow Minerals, which no longer operates gold mines, were named in the suits.

The suit, first filed in 2012, alleges the named firms knew of the dangers posed to miners by silica dust.

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.

The suit, first filed in 2012, alleges the named companies knew of the dangers posed to miners by silica dust for more than a century and lists 12 specific forms of neglect and endangerment, including wilfully ignoring and/or failing to execute almost all of the recommended steps mandated in regulations and legislation designed to protect the miners from silica dust.