Judgment expected in the silicosis certification case

The full bench of the high court in Johannesburg is on Friday expected to pass a landmark judgment deciding whether silicosis sufferers may institute a class action against South Africa’s gold mining companies.

In October last year‚ the court sat for two weeks to hear an application by more than 50 former mineworkers who wanted to certify a class action lawsuit against 32 gold companies that owned or operated 82 mines from 1965 to the present.

The class representatives in the case were acting on behalf of thousands of former mineworkers‚ and are seeking compensation for having contracted silicosis and pulmonary tuberculosis at the mines.

There is no known cure for silicosis which is contracted through inhaling tiny particles of silica dust from gold-bearing rocks underground over a prolonged period.

The disease causes shortness of breath‚ a persistent cough and chest pains‚ and makes sufferers susceptible to tuberculosis.

If certification is granted it could lead to the largest class-action lawsuit in South Africa’s history.

If not‚ individuals would have to bring their claims in an individual capacity‚ a highly expensive task given the high cost of litigation.

In his arguments before the court last year‚ class representative counsel Wim Trengove SC‚ said the case aimed to bring justice to surviving mineworkers and the dependants of those who had died from the occupational diseases.

Trengove said the case did not centre on whether the affected miners were entitled to sue but how they should do it.

“How best can their claims be fairly heard? They have a right to a judicial determination of their claims. Class action is the most viable option.”

Trengove said the fact that there were claimants‚ as well as their poor financial standing and the state of their health‚ were compelling factors for a class-action certification.

He said the choice was between instituting a class-action lawsuit against 82 mines‚ or thousands of mineworkers lodging individual claims against the companies.

“How is justice best served? In this case‚ a class action is the only way of bringing justice to thousands of claimants.”

The mining companies opposed the certification.

In some of their arguments‚ they said the mineworkers aggregated the blame on the industry and did not specify how each company was responsible.

They also said mines could not be grouped together as if they were acting as one.

Tiso Black Star Group Digital


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