CAPE TOWN, Nov 22 (Reuters) - Lawyers acting for thousands of miners who contracted fatal lung diseases silicosis and TB in mines said on Tuesday settlement talks with implicated gold companies for an out-of-court deal could be reached by December.
The High Court last year set the stage for protracted proceedings on cases dating back decades in the largest class action suit yet in Africa’s most industrialized country.
Many of the nearly half a million miners who contracted the fatal lung disease silicosis and tuberculosis, are from nearby countries who supplied labour to South African mines.
Gold miners are appealing that ruling, while at the same time, six of the firms, including Anglo American, AngloGold Ashanti and Sibanye are holding settlement talks with the workers.
Richard Spoor and Charles Abrahams, lawyers for the afflicted miners, told parliament’s mineral resources committee that significant progress had been made in those discussions.
“The parties are reasonably confident that a settlement will be achieved in the course of this year,” they said.
Spoor said about half of the ex-miners had died since the legal process began a decade ago and that the longer the remainder wait for a settlement, the more the miners are dying.
The suit, which has little precedent in South African law, has its roots in a landmark ruling by the Constitutional Court in 2011 that for the first time allowed lung-diseased miners to sue their employers for damages.
Any settlement that is reached will have to be confirmed by a High Court, lawyers said.
If allowed, it could cost gold firms billions of rand as the industry struggles with lower commodity prices, deeper ore bodies and labour strife curbing output.
“We really do feel that in many ways we have a meeting of minds,” said Charmane Russell, spokeswoman for the mines working group dealing with silicosis.
Silicosis is a disease that causes shortness of breath, a persistent cough and chest pains and makes people highly susceptible to tuberculosis, which kills. It has no known cure. (Reporting by Wendell Roelf; Editing by James Macharia)