Past and present mine workers claim they were exposed to conditions that resulted in them contracting lung diseases. Picture: ALON SKUY
Past and present mine workers claim they were exposed to conditions that resulted in them contracting lung diseases. Picture: ALON SKUY

The Johannesburg High Court has approved the landmark R5bn settlement reached between gold mining companies and workers suffering from silicosis and other occupational lung diseases.

Friday’s court approval is one step closer to the establishment of a trust that will ensure eligible claimants can, at last, be paid out after four years of painstaking negotiations.

The settlement is between the Occupational Lung Disease Working Group, which represents African Rainbow Minerals, Anglo American SA, AngloGold Ashanti, Gold Fields, Harmony and Sibanye-Stillwater; and the representatives of the class-action members that are settling, as well as their attorneys Richard Spoor, Abrahams Kiewitz and the Legal Resources Centre.

The R5bn agreement was provisionally approved in December 2018, but before it could be made an order interested parties had to be given an opportunity to object to the agreement.

Now, following Friday’s court approval, class-action members need to be given the opportunity to opt out of the settlement, should they so wish, before a trust can be established to administer and pay out the funds.

Over the next four weeks, notices will be published and broadcast in news media in SA and other Southern African countries to inform class-action members of their right to opt out. After the four weeks, they will have an additional 60 days to submit their opt-out forms.

Those who do not opt out will benefit from the settlement, but the agreement potentially takes away their right to later sue any of the companies.

“Once the opt-out period is over, and the settlement agreement becomes effective, the Tshiamiso Trust will then commence with the real work of implementing the settlement,” the parties said in a statement.

“This will include the trust tracking and tracing class-action members; processing all submitted claims, including the undertaking of benefit medical examinations; and the payment of benefits to eligible claimants.”

steynl@businesslive.co.za