Justice for South African Gold Miners

Thousands of ex-gold mineworkers in Southern Africa are suffering from silicosis. They are denied the medical screening, compensation, healthcare and support they need and deserve. We are calling on the companies that made their fortunes from apartheid gold to pay up now and provide decent health and compensation.

The Background

What is silicosis?

Silicosis is a lung disease caused by prolonged exposure to silica dust. It decreases lung capacity, making it difficult to breathe and massively increases the risk of tuberculosis. Silicosis and (especially) TB can be fatal. Although the methods of preventing silicosis have been known for over a century, it is estimated that tens, possibly hundreds, of thousands of ex-gold mineworkers in Southern African are suffering from silicosis.

What is the history of this problem?

Under apartheid, mining was South Africa’s biggest industry. Hundreds of thousands of gold mineworkers, recruited from rural South Africa and neighbouring countries, worked underground in appalling conditions. Profits were prioritised over the safety of workers. Black mineworkers undertook the dustiest jobs, and were sent home without any compensation or support when they were too sick to continue working.

Which mining companies are responsible?

Anglo American South Africa (AASA) was the largest and longest established gold mining company in South Africa throughout the 20th century. The other companies who are (or at least historically have been) involved in gold mining in South Africa are: African Rainbow Minerals; AngloGold Ashanti; Gold Fields; Harmony; and Sibanye Gold. AASA and these five mining companies have formed the Occupational Lung Disease Working Group (OLDWG).

What settlement was reached in March 2016?

In March 2016 a settlement on behalf of 4,365 ex-mineworkers with an overall value estimated to be more than R500 million (£23 million) was achieved with Anglo American South Africa and AngloGold Ashanti. Under the settlement, R464 million (£21 million) will be paid into an independent trust, known as Q(h)ubeka. The trust will arrange for the 4,365 ex-mineworkers to have a medical, and those who have silicosis at or above a certain level and able to demonstrate they worked as a mineworker for the companies for at least two years will receive compensation. While welcome and positive news, this settlement is limited to the 4,365 claimants; it is not a comprehensive industry-wide settlement.

What are we doing?

Working with a range of civil society organisations in South Africa, ACTSA has been campaigning for justice for Southern African gold mineworkers with silicosis and tuberculosis since 2012.  We have taken many actions, including: protesting outside the High Court; attending and speaking at many Anglo American AGMs; organising petitions; and producing campaign briefings. Our detailed analysis of the issues can be seen in our campaign materials below.

Campaign Success!

In May 2016 the High Court of South Africa agreed that a class action on behalf of 15,000 ex-gold mineworkers could be certified (i.e. proceed). The mining companies appealed. If the class action is successful it should led to a comprehensive industry wide compensation scheme. In January 2018, negotiations between the mining companies (known as the Occupational Lung Disease Working Group) and the legal representatives of the ex-mineworkers reached an advanced stage. The class action litigation was put on hold. ACTSA is not party to legal proceedings but supports the class action as a means to achieve justice. We recognise for the ex-miners with silicosis there is a need for compensation now. A settlement may not be far away. We shall remain vigilant. Will it be a decent settlement that enables those with silicosis to live with dignity? We thank all of those who have supported our campaign to date.

What's next for ACTSA?

ACTSA will continue monitoring the implementation of the settlement reached in March 2016.

We will continue applying pressure on the mining companies, including Anglo American at the company’s AGM in May 2018, in order to ensure that any settlement of the class action litigation is as good as possible for ex-mineworkers with silicosis and tuberculosis.