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9 May 2018

David Thomas, African Business Magazine

Silicosis deal offers way forward for South African mining

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...[F]ollowing one of the largest class action suits in the nation’s history, the untold thousands of South African and migrant workers blighted by silicosis have finally received a small measure of justice...[S]ix of South Africa’s largest mining companies agreed to a historic $400m fund for...workers stricken with lung diseases from their time labouring on the world’s largest gold-bearing reef.  Lawyers say that the compromise agreement, six years after workers first sought compensation, avoids the necessity of further lengthy and damaging litigation and will give workers and their families speedy access to the funds.  For the industry, the final agreement represents a satisfactory conclusion...Yet despite the industry’s welcome recognition of historic worker neglect, the monumental tasks of implementing reform...remain a work in progress...South Africa’s mining industry has changed markedly in the last two decades...The industry has played its role, overseeing safety reforms...Yet...[t]he industry lobby recorded 81 fatalities between January and November, the bulk of them at the deep-level gold and platinum mines...While improvements have been made...miners’ accommodation...remains rudimentary...The sensible and just recognition of ex-miners’ silicosis claims offers a model for how the industry can engage with its critics and begin to tackle the legacy of its troubled past...[A] fresh start is an opportunity that neither government, organised labour, nor the mining industry can afford to waste.