Test case against Anglo SA could lead to suit avalanche?department o

&8220;Num has been at the forefront to assist sick workers, however, we can&8217;t represent people who are not members.&8221;

&8220;Anglo American South Africa was the largest gold mining company during that period and most of the affected workers were on Anglo American mines,&8221; said Meeran.

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Nombulelo Matu, a former secretary of the mine workers&8217; unions in the former Transkei, said many doors were slammed in their ces when they sought assistance from stakeholders, including the Chamber of Mines, which passed the buck onto government.

Test case against Anglo SA could lead to suit avalanche?department o,Legal Aid South Africa and London law firm Leigh Day said in a press briefing yesterday that the test case involving 18 ex-miners, four of whom have since died, was at an advanced stage of litigation and although a trial date had not yet been set, it would be in 2012

They approached the Department of Health in 2006, which assessed people who worked on the mines and found that 18 563 ex-miners were affected in the Eastern Cape. Discussions for compensation with the department concluded that an amount of R54 million would be available for the 18 563 affected people, each getting a measly R2 700. They rejected this offer, Matu explained.

A test case against Anglo American South Africa, which if successful will bring an avalanche of suits against the mining industry, will be heard next year after miners who contracted silicosis or silicosis tuberculosis from exposure to dust have been waiting decades for compensation.

Richard Meeran, an attorney from Leigh Day, said out of the 500 000 miners employed by the industry, 25 percent had contracted silicosis due to excessive exposure to dust and the lack of adequate safety measures from mining companies. The disease takes years to develop and most of those affected, were people who worked between 1970 to 2000.

Lesiba Seshoka, the spokesman for the National Union of Mineworkers (Num), criticised this statement and said thousands of workers who had contracted silicosis were sent home to die every month.

He refuted claims that the unions were not assisting affected mine workers.

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&8220;The claimants were employed by South African gold mining companies in which Anglo American South Africa had an interest of less than 25 percent. Anglo American maintains that these companies were responsible for the health and safety of their employees and took reasonable steps to protect them,&8221; said Ramchander.

Miners from the Free State, Lesotho, Swaziland and the Eastern Cape were employed at Anglo&8217;s President Steyn Mine in the Free State in the 1970s.

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&8220;The industry has been doing this without consequence and they have not been paying damages. They must be held accountable. If we make it expensive to kill and maim people, then the mining companies will kill and maim less.&8221;

Frans Barker, a senior executive at the Chamber of Mines, dismissed claims that the chamber had closed its doors to sick workers, saying it had launched an ex-mineworker project, which trained hospitals on how to assess and deal with lung diseases. &8220;The purpose was to assist in claims from the compensation commission. We assisted former employees to be examined.&8221; – Business Report

Meeran said the main idea was that when the case went on trial, the court would look at the issues and assess how the company would be held liable.

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Anglo communications manager Pranil Ramchander said that as much as the company was sympathetic to the silicosis victims and supported initiatives by the industry, government and labour to ensure that they were properly treated and provided with statutory compensation, the company was not liable for their claims.

Tony Davis, a professor of occupational health and safety, said the disease was derived from a mineral called silica which is a constituent of the earth&8217;s crust. When inhaled, the dust reached the depths of the lungs and caused scarring, which shrunk the lungs and impaired the transfer of oxygen and ultimately lead to heart ilure. The disease also caused tuberculosis, chronic bronchitis, and emphysema, he said. &8220;People do not die from silicosis; they die from the tuberculosis which is superimposed on damage done by silicosis. Once a person is exposed to silicosis it increases the risk of tuberculosis for the rest of their lives.&8221;

Davis said according to an enquiry known as the Leon Commission, the dust levels in South African mines had not changed for over 50 years, and this had presented an increased and unnecessary risk of silicosis due to the ilure to process data and the high TB rate.

The attorneys representing the plaintiffs, represented the Cape PLC and Thor Chemicals victims and were successful in their UK claims

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Richard Spoor, a human rights attorney from Spoor and Fischer, said he was putting together a large group action on mining companies. He said there was a substantial damages claim to compensate mine workers as conditions in mines were unacceptable.

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