Law firm MBM Law has confirmed the conclusion of an eight-day hearing in the South African High Court to determine whether a class action lawsuit against diversified miner Anglo American can proceed.
The parties expect to hear the court’s verdict and next steps of the proceedings in a few months’ time.
The case relates to alleged lead poisoning of 140 000 community members near the Kabwe mine, in Zambia, which had Anglo as an investor between 1925 and 1974, through an indirect minority shareholding of about 10% in State-owned Zambia Broken Hill Development Company – now ZCCM.
The mine was subsequently nationalised in 1974 and closed in 1994.
The 12 representative plaintiffs asked the court to certify a class action against Anglo on behalf of two proposed classes: children under the age of 18 who reside in the Kabwe district and who have suffered injury as a result of alleged lead exposure, as well as children under the age of seven who have lived in Kabwe for at least two years; and women between 18 and 50 years old, who have resided in the Kabwe district for at least two years and have suffered injury as a result of alleged lead exposure.
MBM Law says the mine has left severe lead pollution and serious human rights concerns in its wake and that the site still contains millions of tons of waste, with lead dust from uncovered waste dumps continuing to blow over to nearby residential areas.
Anglo maintains that numerous companies and artisanal miners in and around Kabwe have undertaken uncontrolled mining and processing activity in the last 50 years, and that its involvement at the mine never constituted operating the mine. At best, the company provided technical advisory services to the mine’s operator, which MBM Law believes is relevant to legal liability.
Anglo is also adamant that the site was not remediated upon closure of the mine 20 years after its nationalisation, rendering ZCCM as the operator and owner of the mine liable for historical claims.
Anglo cites ZCCM’s own words, as per a 1996 report issued, in admitting that the collapse of emission control mechanisms following nationalisation most likely represents the worst period of lead pollution in the history of the Kabwe mine, which would persist even if the plant were closed for multiple decades.
However, the claimants presented what they deemed as robust evidence in the eight-day High Court hearing that at least 66% of the lead contamination present in the environment around the Kabwe mine was discharged between 1925 and 1974 – when Anglo had its indirect shareholding in the mine.
Edited by: Chanel de Bruyn
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor Online
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