South Africa gold miners' silicosis lawsuit settlement expected within six weeks

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South African gold producers will likely reach a settlement within six weeks in a lawsuit over a fatal lung disease that companies have set aside 5 billion rand ($420 million) in provisions for, a lawyer and industry group said on Sunday.

FILE PHOTO: Former gold miner Senzele Silewise, 81, talks to paralegals in Bizana in South Africa's impoverished Eastern Cape province March 7, 2012. Silewise worked underground in the country's gold mines for 44 years before being diagnosed with silicosis. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings/File Photo

“I am confident we will finalize the settlement within six weeks,” Richard Spoor, the human rights lawyer who has spearheaded the class action suit over the disease silicosis, which gold miners contract while working underground, told Reuters.

A spokesman for the working group on Occupational Lung Disease (OLD), a group put together by the six companies involved, said it was is “hopeful” the settlement can be reached in that timeframe.

The settlement would still need to be approved by a High Court before it was implemented.

In February, Graham Briggs, the chair of the working group, said the settlement was seen within “months”. On top of the 5 billion rand that companies have made in provisions, there is 4 billion rand available from a compensation fund to which the industry has been contributing for years.

The suit was launched around six years ago on behalf of miners suffering from silicosis, contracted by inhaling silica dust in gold mines.

Almost all of the claimants are black miners from South Africa and neighboring countries such as Lesotho, whom critics say were not provided with adequate protection during and even after apartheid rule ended in 1994.

The six companies involved are Harmony Gold HARJ.J, Gold Fields GFIJ.J, African Rainbow Minerals ARIJ.J, Sibanye-Stillwater SGLJ.J, AngloGold Ashanti ANGJ.J and Anglo American AAL.L.

Anglo American no longer has gold assets but historically was a bullion producer.

($1 = 11.8078 rand)

Editing by Jason Neely