On 28th August 2015 the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) and Sonke Gender Justice were admitted as amici curiae (friends of the court) in a landmark case in which hundreds of thousands of mineworkers who contracted silicosis and/or tuberculosis in South Africa’s gold mines seek justice. This is a significant and great step forward that two public interest organisations are admitted as amici in this landmark case.
The ruling was delivered by a full bench of the Johannesburg High Court including, Judges Mojapelo, Vally and Windell. It allows the TAC and Sonke to participate in a hearing in October that will hear arguments regarding the certification of the class. If certified, the class will be the largest by far ever to be certified in South Africa. It will allow hundreds of thousands of people who otherwise would be unable to access justice – mainly because they are too poor or too sick – to seek redress for the devastating illnesses. Certification may also, although it is not certain, lead to a settlement between the mining companies and the mineworkers.
The entry of the TAC and Sonke, who are represented by SECTION27, will allow the two organisations to make novel arguments that shift drastically the debate and its focus. As a friend of the court, the TAC and Sonke will make legal arguments on why the class should be certified during the October hearings and will play a big role in mobilising public opinion. The amici’s main argument is that the mineworkers have a constitutional right to proceed by way of a class action. The TAC and Sonke will also be able to present to the court evidence showing the wider social impact of how gold mining companies have endangered workers, fuelled epidemics and impoverished communities over the past five decades. This includes evidence on the way in which women bear the burden of the mining industry’s neglect.
The TAC and Sonke’s application was opposed by 18 of the 32 gold mining companies involved in the case including Harmony Gold Mining Company and its subsidiaries, Gold Fields and Anglo American South Africa. The application was not opposed by the former mine workers who are seeking compensation in the case.
The conduct of the gold mining industry has left thousands sick or dead, entrenched cycles of inequality and poverty for many women and left many communities destitute. The TAC and Sonke look forward to contributing towards achieving a measure of justice for this long and tragic history of rights violations.
You can find more background on the case here: