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First claimants paid in South African silicosis settlement

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - The first seven claims have been paid to miners who contracted the incurable lung disease silicosis, nearly two years after a landmark class action settlement by gold producers was given the green light, the trust managing payments said on Tuesday.

Former Lesotho gold miners sit in a district office in Semongkong, 120 km (75 miles) east of the capital Maseru January 12, 2012. Hundreds of migrant workers from Lesotho with suspected lung disease are coming forward to launch a class action lawsuit against South Africa's giant gold mining houses. REUTERS/Ed Cropley

The 5 billion rand ($332 million) class action settlement was approved by the courts in July 2019 after a long legal battle by miners to win compensation for illnesses they say they contracted over decades because of negligence in health and safety.

“We certainly have started processing claims and to date we have paid seven claims,” said Tshiamiso Trust chief operating officer Tina da Cruz.

The class action - whose settlement was the most far reaching ever in South Africa - was launched in 2012 on behalf of miners suffering from silicosis, an disease caused by inhaling silica dust from gold-bearing rocks.

The Tshiamiso Trust acknowledged the delays in payment and said it had been a challenge to set up the infrastructure needed to pay benefits to tens of thousands of people.

“The wait since May 2018, and since the establishment of the Trust in February 2020, has been a source of frustration for our prospective claimants, many of whom are old, and ill,” said the Tshiamiso Trust’s chairperson, professor May Hermanus.

To date 2,402 claims have been lodged and 408 benefit medical examinations have been carried out on claimants, the trust said.

The companies, which reached the settlement agreement in 2018, are Harmony Gold, Gold Fields, African Rainbow Minerals, Sibanye-Stillwater, AngloGold Ashanti and Anglo American.

Silicosis causes shortness of breath, a persistent cough and chest pains, and it makes sufferers highly susceptible to tuberculosis.

($1 = 15.0582 rand)

Reporting by Tanisha Heiberg; Editing by Steve Orlofsky