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S. Africa: Trust makes first payments on the historic silicosis settlement agreement

‘Long and winding road: Claims process in SA silicosis settlement finally under way’ 3 March 2021

The processing of claims in the historic R5-billion class action settlement on behalf of gold miners who contracted the incurable lung disease silicosis is now up and running, the trust managing the payments said on Tuesday. It is a long and winding road, but justice is starting to be served for a historic wrong that literally left those wronged breathless. Seven claimants have already been paid in a pilot project and now general claims are being processed, trustees of the Tshiamiso Trust told journalists during an online press briefing on Tuesday. The logistics and administrative tasks are mammoth, which explains why the trust, launched last year, has an initial 12-year life span. It hopes to have its work wrapped up before then.

…“The wait since May 2018, and since the establishment of the trust in February 2020, has been a source of frustration for our prospective claimants, many of whom are old, and ill,” Professor May Hermanus, the trust’s chairperson, told the briefing. As of 28 February, 2,402 claims have been lodged and 408 medical examinations have been conducted on applying claimants, the trust’s CEO, Daniel Kotton, said. The numbers involved are staggering and speak to one of the South African mining industry’s many pernicious legacies. About 1.3 million people are estimated to have worked in the gold mines of South Africa, which have produced around a third of the precious metal in recorded history. This laid the foundations for Africa’s most industrialised economy, but was built on the brutal exploitation of a mostly migrant labour force whose wages were depressed for decades.

…In total, about 650,000 miners worked for the six companies involved in the suit over the period of time covered. Not all would have contracted the disease and only a fraction of that number will be paid out – the final tally is unknown at this stage. The payments will range from R10,000 to R250,000 depending on a range of factors, and, in exceptional cases, payments as high as R500,000 could be made. Financial advice and financial literacy training will also be provided for claimants. There are now 50 claims centres in South Africa and neighbouring countries – a reflection of the historically migrant nature of the labour force – and the target is to have 150 set up, given the scale of the task. There have also been attempts by fraudsters to bilk claimants out of money by offering to assist them with processing their claims in exchange for a fee. No claimant needs to pay a cent for the trust’s services.