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Battle lines drawn as mineworker lawsuit begins

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It has been dubbed the David versus Goliath class action lawsuit as mineworkers, who contracted a terminal illness while working underground, begin their fight against 32 mining giants.

As court proceedings got under way on Monday, more than 200 civil society groups and friends of the court from Sonke Gender Justice, Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) and Section27 gathered outside the court and held up placards reading: “We get gold, you get sick” and “Gold mines: profit over people #silicosis”.

According to TAC spokesperson Mary-Jane Matsolo, the case was first brought against Harmony Gold Mine by mineworker Bongani Nkale and 55 others. They were later joined by tens of thousands of mineworkers who have contracted silicosis and tuberculosis and the families of those who died as a result of the illness.

A full bench of judges will hear arguments on class certification – whether or not the fundamentally unknown number of mineworkers with silicosis can claim damages as a class. Only then can the actual case can go ahead.

According to Business Report, more than 40 advocates gathered on Monday to hear arguments lodged by mineworkers. The landmark case dates back to December 2012, when lawyer Richard Spoor filed a motion and supporting paperwork requesting class certification of more than 15 000 prospective class members, it reported.

Matsolo said they would have several awareness campaigns during the court case.

“Today [Monday] we stood in front of the Johannesburg High Court to show solidarity and support for the mineworkers and their families.

“We are also hosting an exhibition… at the Methodist Church opposite the High Court in Johannesburg. There, we will have pictures of the miners who are suffering from this disease, which we took of them in their homes in the Eastern Cape.

“We also have a simulated mine which we hope will give viewers an idea of what it feels like to work underground and the dangerous conditions faced by mineworkers,” Matsolo said.

He said the exhibition would also play a recording of one of the miners who currently had difficulty breathing.

Matsolo said they had incurred numerous challenges with the police and mining companies who had tried to take away their posters. He said complainants wanted civil damages for breaches of statutory, constitutional and common law duties by the gold mining companies. News24

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