JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Gold miners infected with lung diseases brought on by repeated exposure to the dust of South Africa's mines have won a multimillion dollar out-of-court settlement, their lawyer said Saturday.
Anglo American South Africa and AngloGold Ashanti have agreed to pay the equivalent of $32,595,800 to claimants affected by silicosis, settling the case before it went to court, said lawyer Zanele Mbuyisa, who represents 4,365 claimants.
Silicosis, caused by the inhalation of dust particles, makes victims vulnerable to diseases like tuberculosis. Most of the claimants worked in South Africa's gold mines during apartheid, when miners rarely had the proper protective gear, according to the miners' lawyers.
"Thousands of silicosis victims must have died uncompensated during a period when the industry should have been well aware of their predicament," said Mbusiya.
She and human rights lawyers from the London-based firm Leigh Day have worked on the case since 2012, collecting the stories of miners in rural South Africa and neighboring Lesotho. About 400 miners died before the settlement was reached, she said.
Claimants will undergo a medical exam to determine the compensation they should receive, Mbuyisa said. The families of the deceased miners will also be compensated.
Binyana Benson Qubeka plans to use his compensation to rebuild his home in the Eastern Cape province and send his children to school. Qubeka, born in 1952, estimates he was around 18 when he began working in the mines.
"I can't say just how happy I am," said Qubeka, who was diagnosed with silicosis in 1998.
The mining companies said the settlement was reached without an admission of liability from the operators.
"Both companies and the plaintiffs have a common interest in settling this highly complex case that could take several years to resolve through litigation," AngloGold Ashanti CEO Srinivasan Venkatakrishnan said in a statement.