The Long Road to Compensation for Silicosis Sufferers in South Africa

Monday, 10 May, 2021 - 16:00

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Silicosis has troubled the South African mining industry since the 1880s. Since 1902, several commissions of inquiry have investigated this problem but none of them recommended common-law liability as an appropriate mechanism for compensating victims. Instead, workers ’ compensation has always been preferred. There is no consensus among employers, workers and governments on the model for compensation; however, a large body of literature reveals the disappointing results of common law as a compensation mechanism. Therefore, in March 2011 – when the Constitutional Court of South Africa made the celebrated decision, Thembekile Mankayi v. AngloGold Ashanti Ltd, that mine workers who contract diseases at work can sue their employers for damages – it marked the beginning of a new era in the quest for fair and just compensation for silicosis sufferers. In this article, I trace the developments around compensation for silicosis victims. I further argue that the trust settlement agreed in July 2019 may not significantly improve the situation of silicosis claimants, if at all. Contrary to the popular view that trusts represent a victory for mine workers, these institutions come with problems of their own. The article relies on evidence from local and other jurisdictions to illustrate the actual and potential problems associated with trusts as a mechanism for compensating mass claimants.

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