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6 Dec 2022

Zelda Venter, Pretoria News (published on IOL)

S. Africa: Court allows international organisations to participate as friends of the court in lawsuit against Anglo American alleging lead pollution in Zambia

"Judge rules four international organisations may participate in class action lawsuit against Anglo American", 28 Nov 2022

Several UN bodies obtained permission from the Gauteng High Court, Johannesburg on Friday to be admitted as a friend of the court in a class action lawsuit against Anglo American South Africa (AA) over alleged health problems caused by lead mines in central Zambia.

At this stage the court ruled that four international organisations – including the UN Special Rapporteur on Toxins and Human Rights and the UN body concerned with the rights of people with disabilities – may participate in the main application to be heard later to assist the court.

The legal challenge, filed in South Africa, alleges that mining operations carried out in Kabwe, north of the Zambian capital Lusaka, by multinational mining company Anglo-American, were in such close proximity to residents that they caused significant soil contamination and poisoned the population, especially young children.

They further contend that in villages in and around Kabwe... experienced heightened health issues due to the high levels of lead in the area’s topsoil and water supplies.

The suit, filed against Anglo America’s South African subsidiary, represents 180 000 women and children in Kabwe...

The applicants allege that Anglo, through its mining activities conducted at the mine in Kabwe during the period 1925 to 1974, both caused and materially contributed to the ongoing harm suffered by the children and women of child-bearing age in Kabwe as a result of their exposure to lead pollution.

Anglo avers that it did not cause the present state of uncontrolled and polluted conditions in Kabwe and that it is not liable for any harm caused to the applicants by the current state, nor is it liable to remedy it.

It alleges, among others, that Zambian Consolidated Copper Mines Limited (ZCCM) caused the failed state of the mine and concomitant environmental contamination...

Human Rights Watch, one of the bodies who applied for leave to intervene as a friend of the court, saw their application turned down on Friday.

Judge Avrille Maier-Trawley said she could not find that this body could contribute to the main proceedings...

AA, however, persisted in its opposition to the admission of the UN bodies as friends of the court on the basis that their submissions were neither relevant nor helpful.

The UN bodies argued that they could be helpful as they could highlight the rights of victims of human rights violations to have access to justice and the right to a remedy...