'Don't reject silicosis settlement, address the concerns', court urged

Families of the silicosis victims sing outside the South Gauteng High Court where a settlement with certain mining companies was presented.
Families of the silicosis victims sing outside the South Gauteng High Court where a settlement with certain mining companies was presented.
Image: Penwell Dlamini

Judgment has been reserved in the silicosis settlement signed by mining companies and representatives of victims of the disease on Thursday.

Lawyers representing various groups in the historic draft settlement agreement urged the South Gauteng High Court to issue instructions on the clauses it is not happy with but not to disapprove the signed deal.

Lawyers representing various groups made their concluding submissions as they tried to persuade the court to accept the settlement agreement signed by mining companies and representatives of silicosis victims.Gilbert Marcus, SC, representing the Legal Resources Centre, said the court was allowed to reject any clause in the agreement which was unlawful.

However, Marcus added, it was possible that the court could have concerns over whether certain clauses of the settlement agreement were fair, reasonable and adequate. He urged the court to address these.

“It is imperative that the parties be given a [chance] to deal [with] it through a directive [rather] than not to approve the agreement,” said Marcus.He added that the court should be sensitive to the time that had been put into the settlement agreement and the efforts that would be required if changes were to be made to it.

“This is not something that can be done over a day or two,” Marcus said.The court is looking into the draft settlement, which has been signed by the mining companies and organisations representing victims of silicosis in the mining sector.

Once the settlement has been approved by the court a trust will be set up to do the work of finding the potential claimants and facilitating the payment process.

The draft settlement, which is the first of its kind in the country’s history, was reached by the Legal Resources Centre‚ Abrahams Kiewitz Inc and Richard Spoor Attorneys‚ who represented thousands of mineworkers‚ and the Occupational Lung Disease (OLD) Working Group‚ who represented African Rainbow Minerals‚ Anglo American SA‚ AngloGold Ashanti‚ Gold Fields‚ Harmony and Sibanye Stillwater. In the deal, the mining companies will make an initial contribution for benefit payments of R1.4bn for the first two years.

It provides for medical examination and compensation of mineworkers who worked in gold mines from March 12 1965 to date.

Mining companies will contribute R845m in administration costs to the trust. Mineworkers’ benefits will increase annually in line with inflation from the third year of the trust.

In the draft settlement, there is no limit to the number of potential claimants and individuals can opt out if they wish to do so.

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