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Thousands Rally Behind RSI in Occupational Lung Disease Class Action Against Mining Giants

Published February 29, 2024
3 months ago

In what is shaping up to become a landmark legal battle, Richard Spoor Incorporated (RSI) recently announced that its class action lawsuit against several top mining companies has significantly gained momentum. With the addition of thousands of former and current miners, this legal challenge points to potentially one of the largest occupational health cases in South Africa's history.

The class action, aimed at securing compensation for coal mine dust lung diseases (CMDLD), such as pneumoconiosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, echoes the precedent-setting R5-billion settlement for gold miners affected by silicosis, an incurable lung disease caused by the inhalation of silica dust.

Backed by RSI’s proven track record, the coal case took shape with papers filed against industry leaders like South32 Group, BHP Billiton, Seriti Power, Exxaro Group, Anglo American Group, and Glencore, entities with past and present coal assets in the country. These firms now face claims of not providing sufficient protection to their workers from hazardous dust exposure.

RSI's director, George Kahn, highlighted the magnitude of the situation, projecting that, in parallel to the silicosis case, the number of coal workers potentially affected could again rise to hundreds of thousands.

The process began with a crucial step—the application for class certification. Despite the unanimous intention to oppose the certification expressed by all parties, RSI remains steadfast. The legal battle is extensive, with the companies given until September 2024 to file their counter-affidavits.

Notably, the RSI's legal crusade is not merely about contemporary conditions, but also extends to historic neglect dating back to the apartheid era. The class action encompasses claims dating from March 1965 onwards, a period during which black miners' health and lives were starkly undervalued in the pursuit of profit.

Compounding the urgency of this litigation is the high mortality rates among miners from CMDLD, which see approximately 5% passing away annually. The class has already suffered losses, with representatives Thomas Cindi and Dayina Daniel Mafuya having passed since the application's launch in August 2023.

This sobering reality, coupled with the gradual divestment from coal due to its link to climate change, underscores the plight of miners – the human cost in a declining industry.

The class action stands as a stark reminder of the long-term implications of occupational health hazards and the ongoing challenges to attain justice and reparations for those affected. It also spotlights the continuing impact of South Africa’s historical socio-economic disparities, even as the mining industry evolves.

This pivotal moment in South Africa’s mining sector will not only set a precedent for occupational health and safety but also serves as a testament to the resilience of miners fighting for their rights, against giants of an industry facing its reckoning both legally and ethically.

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