AngloGold, Gold Fields, Harmony Face Lawsuit Over Silicosis

AngloGold Ashanti Ltd., Gold Fields Ltd. and Harmony Gold Mining Co., Africa’s largest producers of the metal, need to answer a claim for damages after Abrahams Kiewitz Attorneys filed a suit on behalf of about 3,000 miners.

The law firm today submitted a class-action suit in South Africa’s South Gauteng court as workers seek compensation for health complaints contracted after working in the nation’s gold mines, said Kelvin Vollenhoven, an Abrahams Kiewitz spokesman.

South Africa’s highest court in March 2011 cleared the way for damages to be sought from gold companies by ruling that former miner Thembekile Mankayi could pursue a claim against AngloGold. The court rejected the company’s argument that Mankayi, who died a week before the ruling, wasn’t entitled to seek damages because he had already received a state payout.

South African public-interest lawyer Richard Spoor plans to separately file on behalf of about 14,000 claimants in the same court next month, he told Bloomberg News today by mobile phone. He said earlier he plans to register 30,000 potential claimants suffering from silicosis, a lung disease, by the year-end.

It’s estimated there are 350,000 to 500,000 former mine workers who may suffer from occupational lung diseases in southern Africa, in countries such as Lesotho, Mozambique, Botswana, Malawi and Swaziland, Abrahams Kiewitz said in a statement yesterday, without giving a source of the estimates.

Staking Billions

“It could run into billions of rand,” Vollenhoven said today by phone from Cape Town, where the firm is based. “The court needs to first consider whether there is merit in the case” before the amount of damages can be determined, he said.

Silicosis is caused by prolonged exposure to dust in mines, leaving irreversible scar tissue in lungs and making it hard to breathe. It also heightens the risk of contracting tuberculosis.

“AngloGold Ashanti is currently reviewing the claim instituted by Charles Abrahams in South Africa’s South Gauteng court today and will respond through the appropriate court procedures,” Johannesburg-based AngloGold’s spokesman, Stewart Bailey, said in an e-mailed response to a query. Sven Lunsche, a spokesman for Gold Fields, couldn’t immediately comment. Harmony spokeswoman Henrika Basterfield said the company hasn’t been notified of the suit and couldn’t comment.

“In the case of common law they breached their duty of care to maintain a healthy and safe environment within” their mines, Abrahams, the instructing attorney, said in an e-mailed statement today.

Worker Sign-up

Jubilee South Africa, a civil-rights group, helped sign up miners with occupational lung disease, Abrahams Kiewitz said Aug. 20. “Due to their conditions, most these miners no longer work and live in abject poverty,” it said. “The majority of them are dependent on social grants from government and handouts.”

AngloGold has “been working to improve the management of dust underground and to reduce exposure so as to prevent incidences of silicosis,” Bailey said. “While progress has been made, we recognize that silicosis-related compensation must be reviewed to address inadequacies in the system as previously identified by the Constitutional Court,” he said.

Abrahams Kiewitz said today it’s also the instructing law firm in apartheid reparation cases that started 10 years ago. The cases are still pending before the second Circuit Court of Appeal in New York.

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