SOUTH AFRICA (ft.com) – South African miners including Anglo American agreed to pay $400m to settle a class action launched by former miners who contracted serious lung diseases working in the country’s gold shafts.
Mining companies and lawyers for the mineworkers said on Thursday that the settlement would give “meaningful compensation” to sufferers of silicosis and pulmonary tuberculosis who worked in South Africa’s gold mines, some of the deepest in the world, from the 1960s onward.
“A compromise settlement is far preferable for all concerned than an inevitably lengthy and expensive litigation process would be,” they added.
A South African court must still approve the settlement, which is the result of three years of negotiations and the first class-action lawsuit of its kind in the country’s history.
A third of all the gold ever mined has come from South African mine-shafts, which, for decades under colonialism and apartheid, depended on exploiting the labour of millions of black workers in dangerous and hot conditions. Deep underground, workers risked inhaling silica dust, damaging lungs irreparably with the symptoms appearing years or decades later.
Thousands of former mineworkers with lung diseases in South Africa and neighbouring countries, such as Lesotho, have struggled to pay healthcare bills following their diagnosis. There is no limit to numbers who can claim under Thursday’s settlement.
The settlement covers companies including AngloGold Ashanti, Gold Fields, Sibanye Gold and Anglo’s historic gold operations.
Last year Anglo set aside $101m to cover claims from a potential settlement, an amount which it said had not changed as a result of Thursday’s deal. “We are pleased that this landmark settlement agreement has been reached,” said Norman Mbazima, the deputy chairman of Anglo’s South African operations.
Anglo and AngloGold Ashanti also agreed in 2016 to pay up to $35m into a trust to settle claims brought by 4,400 workers with silicosis.