Min­ers’ sup­port keeps Spoor in ring

Set­tle­ment for TB, sil­i­co­sis claimants comes as a re­lief for lawyer

Saturday Star - - NEWS - SHEREE BEGA

IT’S MES­SAGES like this one that keep hu­man rights lawyer Richard Spoor mo­ti­vated. “Mr Richard, thank you for job well done. I do not what to say, the first day I met you in Pre­to­ria you prom­ise me and the ex-mine work­ers that you will fight this case un­til the end; and you ful­filled that prom­ise. Now I will die a peace­ful man, thank you, God bless you. Vic­tor.”

Spoor tells how he first met Vic­tor in 2006 at a minework­ers’ protest in Tsh­wane.

“I promised him we would stay the course and on the strength of that prom­ise he agreed to in­tro­duce us to for­mer minework­ers in the Bizana district of the Transkei. He is happy we did not let them down.”

In the past few days Spoor has re­ceived many mes­sages like this af­ter his law firm, to­gether with Abra­hams Kiewitz Inc and the Le­gal Re­sources Cen­tre – rep­re­sent­ing thou­sands of claimants in a pi­o­neer­ing sil­i­co­sis and TB class ac­tion law­suit – reached a R5 bil­lion set­tle­ment with the Oc­cu­pa­tional Lung Dis­ease Work­ing Group.

It com­prises gold min­ing firms, African Rain­bow Min­er­als, An­glo Amer­i­can SA, An­gl­o­gold Ashanti, Gold Fields, Har­mony and Sibanye-still­wa­ter.

Af­ter three years of ex­ten­sive ne­go­ti­a­tions, the “agree­ment pro­vides mean­ing­ful com­pen­sa­tion to all el­i­gi­ble work­ers suf­fer­ing from sil­i­co­sis and/or TB who worked in th­ese com­pa­nies’ mines from March 12 1965 to date.

“The par­ties to the agree­ment be­lieve that a com­pro­mise set­tle­ment is far prefer­able for all con­cerned than an inevitably lengthy and ex­pen­sive lit­i­ga­tion process would be, al­low­ing for claimants more quickly to re­ceive com­pen­sa­tion and re­lief for their con­di­tions.”

The claimants, which in­cluded wid­ows and de­pen­dants, would se­cure pay­ments be­tween R70 000 and R500 000 each. Sign­ing the draft set­tle­ment this week, Spoor told how he felt mixed emo­tions.

“Typ­i­cally af­ter an event like this, I end up feel­ing to­tally de­pressed. It must be a per­son­al­ity quirk but I’m go­ing bi­cy­cling this week­end and hope­fully I won’t have that,” he said

“Mak­ing a judge­ment call of where to set­tle, at what point, is a huge re­spon­si­bil­ity. We did have quite ex­ten­sive con­sul­ta­tions be­fore the set­tle­ment with dif­fer­ent stake­hold­ers, so we kind of got a sense of sup­port and en­dorse­ment.

“The sup­port has been over­whelm­ing. There’s a recog­ni­tion that peo­ple un­der­stand the kind of com­pro­mises that need to be made and they’re happy we’re pro­gress­ing and mov­ing for­ward.”

He is pleased that the claimants are sat­is­fied. “I re­ally worry that peo­ple are go­ing to be dis­ap­pointed and up­set (with the out­come) so the re­sponse I’ve re­ceived from so many peo­ple is a huge re­lief for me. What we’ve stressed is that we’ve tried to make this set­tle­ment as broad and in­clu­sive as we can so we want to spread the ben­e­fits as widely as pos­si­ble, which is why we cov­ered TB, which might oth­er­wise not be cov­ered.

“We’ve made pro­vi­sions for a much more re­laxed test for wid­ows so they don’t have to prove a per­son died of this ill­ness. To the ex­tent that we had a sane in­flu­ence over the shape of this thing, we tried to cast the net wider, and opted for more peo­ple to ben­e­fit. Un­for­tu­nately that means more peo­ple, less money.”

The high court in Jo­han­nes­burg will review the draft set­tle­ment. Af­ter it has given it the green light, a trust deed will be cre­ated.

Spoor adds the court case against 26 other gold min­ing com­pa­nies, cited in the sil­i­co­sis class ac­tion, would con­tinue.“we will pro­ceed against them with the class ac­tion process and see where that takes us. We haven’t had any en­gage­ment with them our­selves di­rectly and we are not sure why they chose not to par­tic­i­pate. They are not the off hook.”

Mak­ing a call on where to set­tle is a huge re­spon­si­bil­ity

PIC­TURE: MIKE HUTCH­INGS/ REUTERS FILE

For­mer gold miner Sen­zele Sile­wise, then 81 and di­ag­nosed with sil­i­co­sis, talks to par­ale­gals in Bizana in the East­ern Cape in 2012.

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