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SA miners suffering lung disease bring their demands to Anglo American’s London AGM

Anglo American plc holds its AGM in London while miners continue to suffer

Daniel Thakamakau

19 April 2012

The London AGM for Anglo American plc, one of the world’s largest mining companies, will be attended today (19 April 2012) by Daniel Thakamakau, an ex-miner from South Africa affected by the lung disease, silicosis. He is one of potentially thousands of miners who claim that the London headquartered company is responsible for what has been described as ‘a river of disease flowing out of the South African gold mines’.
“While Anglo became rich from the work that we did on their mines, we are now suffering,” says Daniel Thakamakau. “I have no money and I cannot get medical treatment. All we are asking is for the company to provide medical assistance and our fair compensation.”
Daniel Thakamakau, is one of the subjects of a powerful photographic exhibition entitled, "Real People. Real Mining", by award-winning photographer Hein du Plessis, which was launched on Wednesday 17 April in the House of Commons. The exhibition continues at Congress House and focuses on the plight of black South African gold miners who now live with debilitating lung diseases.
Those attending the launch also heard from Professor Tony Davies, an expert on occupational health in South Africa, and Peter Bailey the National Chairperson of Health and Safety for the National Union of Mine Workers (NUM) in South Africa.
Richard Meeran from law firm Leigh Day & Co discussed the gold miners' litigation against Anglo American South Africa Ltd (AASA), which they have been fighting over the past 8 years in the South African and UK courts.
The UK litigation, commenced in September 2011, is a mass tort action in which Leigh Day & Co represents 1200 claimants who worked at all of Anglo's mines in South Africa. The action is potentially worth hundreds of millions of pounds in compensation.
AASA is contesting the jurisdiction of the UK courts to entertain the claim, however law firm Leigh Day & Co argues that the courts have jurisdiction on the grounds that AASA's "central administration" is by Anglo American plc in London. A hearing on this issue will take place in the High Court on 9 May 2012.
AASA, registered in Johannesburg, is now owned by London-based global mining giant, Anglo American plc. AASA was the head office company of the Anglo group until 1998 and was the largest gold miner in South Africa for most of the 20th century, having 12 mines within its group.
During apartheid, AASA recruited hundreds of thousands of labourers from the former "bantustans" (home lands), such as Transkei (now in the Eastern Cape) and neighbouring states including Lesotho, Botswana and Malawi.
The litigation against AASA alleges that miners' excessive exposure to dust was caused by the negligence of AASA in terms of its control over and advice given to the gold mines within its group.
The South African litigation, in the Johannesburg High Court, has been ongoing since 2004 and has funding from Legal Aid South Africa. It comprises 18 individual claims by ex-miners from Anglo's President Steyn Mine in the Free State.  The South African Legal Resources Centre, assisted by Leigh Day & Co, represents the claimants.
Leigh Day & Co argues that bringing this case in the UK is in the victims' interests as English courts have well-developed case management procedures and the claimants will be entitled to UK damages against the company.
Richard Meeran from Leigh Day & Co said:
“Our investigations indicate that the South African gold mining industry was focused on production and profit and displayed a flagrant disregard for the health of its black workers. As a result, tens of thousands of ex-miners, without access to proper medical facilities, have been disabled and they and their families left destitute. The industry has been well aware of their predicament for over a decade but has failed to act.
"Anglo American is a multinational that prides itself on its commitment to corporate social responsibility. It is high time that the industry assisted in improving medical facilities in rural areas and establishing a compensation scheme to alleviate the suffering of ex-miners on whose backs it built its business.”
Silicosis is caused by excessive dust exposure and increases the risk of contracting TB, which is endemic in rural South Africa. The combination of silicosis and TB is often fatal. Rates of silicosis and TB are very high among black gold miners, who undertook the dustiest jobs in the mines. Professor Tony Davies has described a "river of disease flowing out of the South African gold mines". Medical facilities available to ex-miners in areas such as the Eastern Cape are severely lacking.
Anglo American is a major producer of diamonds, copper, nickel, iron ore and metallurgical and thermal coal and the world's largest producer of platinum. It has its primary listing on the London Stock Exchange and is a constituent of the FTSE 100 Index. Anglo American has engaged in a worldwide campaign advertising its commitment to its workers, their families and their communities, entitled "Real Mining. Real People. Real Difference".
The victims' campaign is supported by Action for Southern Africa (formerly the Anti-Apartheid Movement), War on Want, London Mining Network & Amnesty International UK.

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Gold mining silicosis claims

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Richard Meeran