Miners’ support keeps Spoor in ring
Settlement for TB, silicosis claimants comes as a relief for lawyer
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
Former gold miner Senzele Silewise, then 81 and diagnosed with silicosis, talks to paralegals in Bizana in the Eastern Cape in 2012.