Anglo American's corporate offices in Johannesburg. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Anglo American's corporate offices in Johannesburg. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

Anglo American SA faces a class-action lawsuit on behalf of communities made ill by lead poisoning at the defunct Kabwe mine in Zambia.

However, the diversified miner argues that the operation was nationalised and has been operated by the government for two decades.

Anglo American was one of the six companies involved in the R5bn silicosis class-action case in SA brought on behalf of former gold miners made ill by inhaling silica dust.

The matter was settled in July.

London-based law firm Leigh Day, which contests human rights cases, has teamed up with Johannesburg-based law firm Mbuyisa Moleele to prepare a class-action case on behalf of communities around Kabwe, and will file it in the Johannesburg high court after a two-year investigation.

“The purpose of the action will be to secure compensation for victims of lead poisoning, including the cost of an effective medical monitoring system for blood lead levels among the community,” the two firms said in a statement on Friday.

They argue the mine was “owned and operated and/or managed” by Anglo American SA between 1925 and 1974 — the operation’s “most productive period”.

“It is alleged that from 1925 to 1974, Anglo American SA played a key role in the management of the medical, engineering and other technical services at the mine, and that it failed to take adequate steps to prevent lead poisoning of the local residents,” the lawyers said.

The mine was closed in 1994, after it was nationalised and taken from Anglo in 1974.

In its defence, Anglo said on Friday it was “one of a number of investors in the company that owned the Kabwe mine”.

“Anglo American was, however, at all times, far from being a majority owner. In the early 1970s, the company that owned the mine was nationalised by the government of Zambia and for more than 20 years thereafter the mine was operated by a state-owned body until its closure in 1994,” the London-based miner said.

“Since the nationalisation more than 40 years ago effectively placed these issues under the control of the Zambian government, we are not in a position to comment further about the matter, but we certainly don’t believe that Anglo American is in any way responsible for the current situation.”

seccombea@businesslive.co.za