08/02/2018 07:04 SAST | Updated 08/02/2018 07:04 SAST

Silicosis Class-Action Suit Could Be Settled In Months

About R9-billion has been set aside to compensate thousands of silicosis sufferers.

Mike Hutchings / Reuters
Former gold miner Senzele Silewise, 81, diagnosed with silicosis, talks to paralegals in Bizana in South Africa's impoverished Eastern Cape province March 7, 2012. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings/File Photo

A massive class-action suit brought by miners suffering from silicosis against gold producers in South Africa could be settled within months, Business Day reported. A settlement amount of about R9-billion is on the table.

Six years ago, claimants went to court seeking compensation from all 82 of South Africa's gold mines for contracting silicosis while working underground.

According to Creamer's Mining Weekly, the case was brought by attorneys Richard Meeran and Zanele Mbuyisa on behalf of 4,365 former mineworkers. However, thousands more could qualify for compensation.

The Qhubeka Trust was established in 2016 as a mechanism for distributing compensation.

The trust reportedly has until April 2019 to finish medical assessments of all the claimants and make the first tranche of payments.

Business Day reported on Thursday that Graham Briggs, chairperson of the Working Group on Occupational Lung Disease, reportedly said, "Within a few months we could have a deal. There's been great progress." Briggs was reportedly speaking ahead of a presentation on occupational lung disease at the Mining Indaba in Cape Town.

"The faster we settle, the faster we can pay compensation to those who are entitled to it," he reportedly said.

He reportedly added that there was close to R4-billion in the compensation fund that the six major gold producers had been contributing for years. They were reportedly making provisions for another R5 billion. The six companies are Harmony Gold, Gold Fields, African Rainbow Minerals, Sibanye-Stillwater, AngloGold Ashanti and Anglo American.

But the issue is far from resolved, as Briggs reportedly explained. It is still unclear how many claimants are entitled to compensation. There could be hundreds of thousands of claimants, and finding them will be a challenge, he said.

According to Fin24, Briggs said that the companies, claimants, civil society groups and the Chamber of mines had agreed that a settlement would be better than drawn-out litigation. Many of the claimants are old, ill or have already passed away.

The parties reportedly went to court in January last year to postpone the class action suit which was due to be heard in March 2017, in order to pursue a settlement agreement. Briggs reportedly said that litigation was "be to the detriment of claimants and them getting their compensation."

The settlement is going to take about six months, when it could have been settled early this year, as three new companies have joined the matter, Business Day reported.