Anglo Platinum miners board an underground lift underground at Thembelani 1Shaft in Rusternburg in this May 2014 file photo  Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Anglo Platinum miners board an underground lift underground at Thembelani 1Shaft in Rustenburg in this May 2014 file photo Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

ANGLO American SA and AngloGold Ashanti have reached an agreement to compensate nearly 4,400 silicosis claims brought against the companies for a total R464m, which will be put into an independent trust to distribute compensation.

The lawyers representing 4,365 claimants had sued the South African arm of Anglo American and former subsidiary AngloGold for dust-related lung illnesses, including silicosis and silico-tuberculosis, contracted while working on the companies’ mines. The claims were first lodged in 2012.

Local law firm Mbuyisa Neale was assisted by human rights lawyers Leigh Day in London, and they stressed this settlement was completely separate from the silicosis class-action proceedings awaiting a decision on certification from the High Court in Johannesburg.

Anglo American SA is one of 32 companies, including AngloGold Ashanti, Gold Fields, Harmony Gold, Sibanye Gold and African Rainbow Minerals involved in the class action. The High Court will decide whether or not a class-action law suit is the appropriate way to hear that action, which was brought by different lawyers acting for different people.

Anglo American and AngloGold said the agreement fully and finally resolved the stand-alone silicosis claims brought against them, of which 1,200 were brought against AngloGold.

"AngloGold Ashanti believes that agreeing settlement terms is in the best interests of the claimants, their families, and the company," AngloGold Ashanti CEO Srinivasan Venkatakrishnan said.

"Both companies and the plaintiffs have a common interest in settling this highly complex case that could take several years to resolve through litigation," he said.

Without an admission of liability, both companies said they would fund up to R464m that would be paid into the independent trust to be called Q(h)ukeka, within two weeks of the trust’s bank account being set up.

The lawyers said the companies would fund the costs of the trust as well as medical evaluations of those claiming from the trust. To qualify for compensation, the claimants would need to be diagnosed with silicosis and have worked on the companies’ mines for at least two years.

The claimants come from the Eastern Cape, Lesotho and the Free State, and have an average age of 61.

In November 2014, Anglo American SA, AngloGold, Gold Fields, Harmony and Sibanye formed an industry working group, which now includes African Rainbow Minerals, to address issues relating to compensation and medical care for occupational lung disease in the gold mining industry in SA, said Anglo American SA executive head Andile Sangqu.

"The industry working group is seeking a comprehensive solution to address legacy compensation issues and future legal frameworks that are fair to past, current and future employees," he said.