South African miners score legal victory over lung disease

JOHANNESBURG – South African gold miners who got lung diseases while working underground, as well as families of miners who died of such diseases, can launch a class action suit against mining companies, a judge said Friday.

The ruling by Deputy Judge President Phineas Mojapelo opens the way to litigation involving tens of thousands of miners and spanning decades of cases, putting pressure on a mining industry that was a foundation of the South African economy but has struggled over the years because of rising costs.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions hailed the ruling in a Johannesburg court as a “huge victory” and urged all affected miners and families of miners who died from diseases they got in mines to join legal action against some of the most prominent mining companies in the country.

In a statement, the labour group said miners “did the back-breaking work to build this economy and this country and they deserve justice.”

Many people who are now sick worked in South Africa’s gold mines during apartheid, when miners rarely had the proper gear to protect them against dust inhalation. They suffer diseases such as silicosis and tuberculosis.

Earlier this year, a group of South African gold miners infected with lung diseases brought on by repeated exposure to mine dust won a multimillion dollar out-of-court settlement, lawyers said. Lawyers had represented thousands of clients in the suit against Anglo American South Africa and AngloGold Ashanti, and said some miners died before they had a chance to be compensated.

The mining companies said the settlement was reached without an admission of liability from the mine operators.