Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

In a clear sign that a multibillion-rand settlement between gold mining companies and lawyers representing tens of thousands of former mine workers with the lung sickness silicosis is near, both sides have asked for and have been granted a postponement of an appeal at the Supreme Court of Appeal.

The settlement, estimated in some quarters to be in the region of R5bn, will be paid into a trust that will be used to locate about 100,000 former mine workers with the crippling lung disease caused by inhaling silica dust in gold mines. The trust will assess their health and make payments to them.

Parties involved in the silicosis class action said in a letter to the Supreme Court of Appeal that they requested an indefinite postponement of the appeal brought by the mining companies against a court ruling that the matter could be classified as a class action.

The parties said in a letter dated December 15 2017 that all the appellants and all the respondents had requested the postponement because "most of the parties are engaged in good faith settlement negotiations which have reached an advanced stage".

"All of the parties consider it to be in their best interests and in the interest of judicial economy and the efficient administration of justice that the hearing of the appeal be postponed."

Some of the parties involved in the action point out that continuing the process in court and conducting an appeal could drag the matter out for years.

The mining companies have formed the Occupational Lung Disease Working Group made up of African Rainbow Minerals, Anglo American SA, AngloGold Ashanti, Gold Fields, Harmony and Sibanye Stillwater.

Those six firms said last year they had made provision for a settlement payment and the total came to about R5bn.

The class action stems from the start of a court process launched in 2012 for past and current workers afflicted by silicosis and occupational tuberculosis. The action was brought by human rights lawyer Richard Spoor, who successfully pursued Gencor for payouts to workers afflicted with asbestosis, Abrahams Kiewietz Inc and the Legal Resources Centre.

Spoor and Graham Briggs, former CEO of Harmony Gold who heads the lung disease working group, told Parliament in December the talks were "well advanced" and should be concluded early in 2018.

seccombea@bdfm.co.za

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