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SA Court Allows Class Action Against Gold Mining Cos. Over Silicosis

A class action suit by thousands of miners against a group of gold-mining firms was allowed by South Africa's High Court on Friday. Most of the miners contracted the fatal lung disease silicosis while working underground. The court has also included those who contracted tuberculosis while working in the mines in the class action suit.

The defendants in the case include Harmony Gold, Gold Fields, AngloGold Ashanti, Sibanye Gold, African Rainbow Minerals (ARM) and Anglo American, which have formed the Occupational Lung Disease (OLD) working group to deal with such issues.

The suit is rooted in a landmark judgement by South Africa’s Constitutional Court in 2011 had allowed lung-disease afflicted miners to sue their employers for damages. 

Justice Phineas Mojapelo, who passed the order green-lighting the class action suit, observed, "We hold view that in the context of this case, class action is the only realistic option through which most mine workers can assert their claims effectively against the mining companies.”

Silicosis is caused by inhaling silica dust from gold-bearing rocks. It causes shortness of breath, a persistent cough and chest pains, and makes people highly susceptible to tuberculosis.

At the time of reporting, the gold mining companies said they were studying the High Court order and had not yet decided whether they would appeal.

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