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21 Dec 2012

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre

Gold miner silicosis litigation (re So. Africa)

Status: CLOSED

Date lawsuit was filed
21 Dec 2012
Location of Filing: South Africa
Location of Incident: South Africa
Type of Litigation: Domestic


Harmony Gold South Africa Mining
Gold Fields South Africa Metals & steel, Mining
African Rainbow Minerals South Africa Mining
AngloGold Ashanti South Africa Mining
DRDGold South Africa Mining
Anglo American South Africa South Africa Mining
JCI South Africa Mining


Snapshot: In December 2012, former gold miners suffering from the lung disease silicosis filed a class action lawsuit in South Africa against 30 gold mining companies, including African Rainbow Minerals, AngloGold Ashanti, Gold Fields and Harmony Gold. The plaintiffs alleged that the defending companies failed to take adequate safety measures to protect miners from exposure to silica dust. In May 2018, the parties announced that they had reached a settlement agreement. The Johannesburg High Court approved the settlement in July 2019.

On 21 December 2012 attorney Richard Spoor filed a motion in South Africa court seeking class certification for as many as 17,000 ex-gold miners suffering from the lung disease silicosis.  The proposed class action named 30 gold mining companies as defendants, including African Rainbow Minerals, AngloGold Ashanti, Gold Fields and Harmony Gold.  The plaintiffs allege that the defendant companies knew of the dangers posed to the miners by exposing them to silica dust and that defendants failed to take adequate measures to protect the workers from this exposure.

On 31 October 2013 the High Court of Johannesburg ruled that all of the pending lawsuits against gold mining companies regarding silicosis may be consolidated into one action.  The High Court started to hear the class certification motion on 12 October 2015. 

On 13 May 2016, South Africa's High Court allowed the class action lawsuit.  The companies appealed the decision. On 24 June, the High Court rejected the appeal on the basis that the certification of a class action is a procedural step and therefore, not appealable.  In September 2016, six of the defendant companies were granted the right to appeal the South Gauteng High Court’s decision allowing the plaintiffs to pursue a class action.  In December 2017, both parties requested the Supreme Court of Appeal to postpone the hearing, while they are trying to reach a settlement.  In January 2018, the Court granted postponement.  On 3 May 2018, the parties announced that they have reached an agreement.  The settlement provides for compensation to all workers who worked at the companies' mines at any point since March 1965 and are suffering from silicosis, as well to the families of deceased miners.  Six companies targeted in the lawsuit have set aside approximately $400 million to settle.  The settlement will be submitted for the South Gauteng High Court's ratification before implementation.  The class action will continue against three smaller companies that did not participate in the settlement. A silicosis fund that will disburse the funds is to be established in 2019. On 26 July 2019, the Johannesburg High Court approved 5 billion rands (US$353 million) class-action settlement. As of July 2020, no ex-miners have received compensation from the settlement, with companies attributing delays to the COVID-19 pandemic.

- "South African court allows silicosis class action suit against gold firms", TJ Strydom & Zimasa Mpemnyama, Reuters, 13 May 2016
- “Ex-miners seek silicosis class action vs. South African firms”, Reuters, 28 Dec 2012

- Richard Spoor Inc. Attorneys [counsel for the plaintiffs]:Gold Miner Silicosis Litigation

- [PDF] Nkala, et al. v. Harmony Gold Mining Company Limited, et al. - Judgement on leave to appeal, 24 Jun 2016
- [PDF] Nkala, et al. v. Harmony Gold Mining Company Limited, et al. - Judgement on authorization of class action, 13 May 2016
- [PDF] Nkala, et al. v. Harmony Gold Mining Company Limited, et al. – Notice of Motion, 21 Dec 2012 [application for class certification]
- [PDF] Nkala, et al. v. Harmony Gold Mining Company Limited, et al. – Draft Particulars of Claim, 21 Dec 2012