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17 Mar 2022

Lisa Steyn, Fin 24 (South Africa)

Zambia: Anglo American insists they are not responsible for the situation in Kabwe and will defend the litigation

'We'll defend ourselves', says Anglo as Zambian lead poisoning class action intensifies’ 15 March 2022

Human rights lawyers have filed further evidence with the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg to bolster their case against Anglo American, which stands accused of causing widespread lead poisoning to communities around the Kabwe mine, with devastating consequence for human health. The latest evidence filed by human rights law firms Mbuyisa Moleele and Leigh Day, which includes reports from renowned medical and environmental experts, shows there are high levels of lead in the blood of thousands of children living in the vicinity of the Kabwe mine, which has been ongoing for generations and will have caused the cognitive impairment of a large proportion of the population. It further lays much of the blame at the feet of Anglo American. Kabwe is Zambia's oldest mine. The resource, which primarily contains zinc and lead, was discovered in 1902 and reached full-scale production in 1906. In 1974, the Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines (ZCCM) assumed majority ownership and control of the mine. The operation closed in 1994 after 88 years of continuous production.

…Sibusiso Tshabalala, spokesperson for Anglo in South Africa, told Fin24 that while the group sympathises with the people of Kabwe and their plight, "we do intend to defend ourselves because we do not believe that we are responsible for the current situation". Anglo argued that the mine operator was Zambia Broken Hill Development Company, and Anglo only provided certain services to the mine. Further, Tshabalala said, there are several factual errors in Dr Lawrence’s recollections, "perhaps not surprisingly given the passage of time and his own admission that he is not certain of many details". Also, Anglo said, the mine was nationalised in the early 1970s and was operated by several Zambian entities for 20 years until closure. "The claim fails to take into account this period, as well as the role of a number of parties in the post-closure management of the mine site during the 27 years since 1994".

…"We believe that this assertion is fundamentally flawed, because of the implementation over time of improving technologies to reduce emissions, and the apparent subsequent failure to maintain the efficacy of some of those technologies post nationalisation," he said. Meeran said Anglo American South Africa’s liability arises from its alleged management, control and oversight of technical and medical aspects of the Kabwe operations, and the advice that it gave to the mine in this regard. Developments in English law have established the principles that would impose a legal duty of care on a multinational parent company in such circumstances and consequently, he said, ownership or operation of the Kabwe mine is irrelevant to the claim.