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Nkala and Others v Harmony Gold Mining Company Limited and Others

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Nkala and Others v Harmony Gold Mining Company Limited and Others

16th May 2016

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Gold mining began on the Witwatersrand in 1886. It has grown over the years spreading to other parts of the country (significantly the Free State). In due course it became a significant contributor to the growth of the gross domestic product of South Africa and rewarded handsomely those who invested in it. The South African currency was for a long time based to a large extent on the value of this internationally sought precious metal. As this case demonstrates, simultaneous with that growth, the industry left in its trail tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of current and former underground mineworkers who suffered from debilitating and incurable silicosis and pulmonary tuberculosis (TB). Many mineworkers also died from the diseases.

Soon after the commencement of gold mining the risk of underground mineworkers being adversely affected by exposure to silica dust and thus suffering from silicosis, which was initially called “phthisis”, became manifest. There are other occupational lung diseases in the industry, but silicosis and to a lesser extent TB are the two that are of concern in this case.

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From as early as 1902 several Commissions of Enquiry (“Commissions”) were appointed by the government to investigate the causes and prevalence of silicosis.  These Commissions found the inhalation of excessive silica dust to be the sole cause of silicosis.  The Commissions recommended that dust control and dust elimination measures be introduced. [1] There were other studies and investigations, including some by the mining industry itself, which made similar findings. These developments sketch and lay down a wide carpet of information that became available and accessible to those involved in the gold mining industry.

This case is about the attempts by the mineworkers employed in the gold mining industry and their dependants to obtain compensation as a result of the mineworkers having contracted silicosis or TB.

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