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South Africa Catholic Church files class action suit against mining firms

Bonginkosi Mhlanga shovels coal into a truck with a pitchfork at the Goldview coal mine entrance in Ermelo, South Africa, on April 21, 2021   -  
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South Africa

The Catholic Church said on Wednesday it is shepherding a class action against mining companies in South Africa on behalf of coal miners who suffered from lung disease.

The Southern African Bishops Conference said lawyers filed papers with South Africa's High Court on Tuesday.

"Very often ex-mine workers are no longer members of trade unions and therefore lack the means and capacity to seek legal recourse from large companies which are responsible for their lung diseases," said Archbishop of Cape Town Stephen Brislin.

"It is thus incumbent on the Church to give assistance where it can... so that they can access compensation that is legally due to them."

The miners are represented by Richard Spoors, a lawyer who has won compensation in similar cases before.

Filed on behalf of 17 former and current mine workers, the case targets global mining giant BHP, its spin-off South32 and South Africa's Seriti, Dasantha Pillay, a lawyer with Spoors' firm, told AFP.

It seeks recourse for all miners who worked for these companies since 1965 and contracted lung disease, as well as dependents of workers who died from coal dust-induced illness.

South32, which was active in South Africa's coal sector between 2015 and 2021, confirmed it was notified of the class action.

"This matter is currently being considered by the business. We are unable to comment further at this point in time," the company said.

BHP and Seriti did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

The church said it initiated and facilitated the case after it was approached by mine workers for assistance.

Coal is a bedrock of South Africa's economy, employing almost 100,000 people and accounting for 80 percent of electricity production.

The industry is concentrated in the eastern Mpumalanga region which Greenpeace says has some of the dirtiest air in the world.

Despite knowing the risks to coal miners, the companies failed to provide their workers with adequate training, equipment, and a safe working environment, according to the class action.

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