The South Gauteng High Court this week gave the go-ahead for what will be the largest public interest lawsuit in our history against the gold mining industry.
There will likely be a settlement, leading to a trust. This, in turn, will pay out lump sums to thousands of men suffering from silicosis and pulmonary TB – or to their widows or children – as a result of working on the mines.
The amount of money will seem enormous and extend countrywide, to the furthest territory where the mining industry built up its labour force. Cash will also flow out to Lesotho, Mozambique, Malawi and elsewhere.
It will pay off debts, build houses and educate children; it will be water on a dry sponge. Wonderful, but also tragic. It has taken a decade to come this far, and there is more fighting ahead.
Silicosis is a historical injustice for which redress can be fought. The case hinges on mines neglecting even their limited duties to black workers under apartheid. There will be no class action for the indignity of hostels, wages – blacks earned 10% of what their white counterparts were paid – and the countless men crushed to death underground to make possible “Africa’s most advanced economy”, now third on the rankings list. And we wonder why young people call the transition to democracy a sellout.