Earlier today, the Catholic Church announced its involvement in spearheading a class-action lawsuit against mining companies in South Africa, seeking justice on behalf of coal miners who have suffered from lung disease. The Southern African Bishops Conference disclosed that legal documents were lodged with South Africa’s High Court on Tuesday.
Archbishop of Cape Town, Stephen Brislin, emphasized that many former mine workers lack the means and resources to seek legal remedies from large corporations responsible for their lung ailments, especially if they are no longer members of trade unions. He stated, “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 class action represents 17 former and current mine workers and is led by lawyer Richard Spoors, known for securing compensation in similar cases. The lawsuit targets major mining entities, including global mining giant BHP, its subsidiary South32, and South Africa’s Seriti. It seeks redress for all miners who have labored for these companies since 1965 and contracted lung disease, as well as the dependents of workers who succumbed to coal dust-induced illnesses.
South32, which operated in South Africa’s coal sector from 2015 to 2021, confirmed being informed of the class action and stated, “This matter is currently being considered by the business. We are unable to comment further at this point in time.” As for BHP and Seriti, they did not immediately respond to requests for comments.
The Catholic Church’s involvement in the case stemmed from its role in initiating and facilitating the proceedings after mine workers sought its assistance. Despite coal being a cornerstone of South Africa’s economy, employing nearly 100,000 individuals and contributing to 80 percent of electricity production, the industry’s operations in the eastern Mpumalanga region have led to serious environmental and health concerns.
The lawsuit alleges that the companies failed to adequately train, equip, and provide a safe working environment for their coal miners, despite being aware of the associated risks. The case underscores the Church’s commitment to seeking justice for those who have suffered due to their labor in the coal industry.