Q(h)ubeka Trust pays out R102m to silicosis sufferers

The Q(h)ubeka Trust was established in March 2016 with the specific purpose of distributing the R395-million settlement won by the attorneys representing the claimants in the compensation action.
Image credit: Q(h)ubeka Trust

Between its establishment in March 2016 and 30 November 2017, the Q(h)ubeka Trust distributed approximately R102-million of the R395-million settlement awarded in compensation to 4 365 qualifying ex-mineworkers from South Africa, Swaziland and Lesotho suffering from silicosis contracted while working for mines owned by Anglo American South Africa and AngloGold Ashanti.

The Trust, which has no connection to the current, ongoing class action suit against various gold mining companies on behalf of gold miners who have developed silica-related diseases, was established with the specific purpose of distributing the R395-million settlement to claimants.

Q(h)ubeka (‘go forward’ in Xhosa) recognises and honours the thousands of claimants who have struggled for decades with the debilitating effects of silicosis, but never received any form of compensation from the mining companies responsible for their illness, according to Trust chairperson, Dr Sophia Kisting-Cairncross.

According to Dr Kisting-Cairncross, the R102-million awarded to claimants as at 30 November 2017 is a significant achievement, particularly given the difficulty involved in locating many of the original claimants whose contact numbers are no longer valid. However, finding the claimants is only the first step. Once contact is made, the process of determining their eligibility for compensation is also challenging, in itself.

“The assessment process, as set out in the Trust Deed, is a complex one,” she explains, “which begins with the need for a comprehensive medical evaluation of each claimant aimed at establishing that he, in fact, suffers from silicosis.” To date, about 2 350 of the 4 365 claimants have undergone these medical assessments, but less than half of these have been determined to be suffering from silicosis.

Silicosis is diagnosed using chest x-rays and lung function tests.
Image credit: Gumersindorego

Another significant hurdle the Trust faces in determining compensation eligibility is to establish that claimants worked for at least two years at mines owned by Anglo American South Africa and AngloGold Ashanti – a step significantly complicated by what Dr Kisting-Cairncross describes as ‘very poor’ record keeping. “To qualify for compensation, claimants who are suffering from silicosis must be able to prove that they spent at least two years working in an AngloGold or Anglo American mine to be eligible for a payment,” says Dr Kisting-Cairncross.

In terms of the Trust Deed which sets out the claims criteria the Trust has until April 2019 to complete the medical assessments of all claimants, and make the first tranche of compensation payments to qualifying claimants. After this, the Trust will make a second tranche of payments, which will distribute all the remaining settlement funds that weren’t paid out in the first tranche to qualifying claimants and family members of qualifying deceased claimants.

Despite the numerous challenges, Dr Kisting-Cairncross remains positive that the work being done by the Q(h)ubeka Trust in achieving compensation for silicosis-afflicted mineworkers will be completed within the timelines stipulated in the Trust Deed. She also points out that the benefits delivered by the Trust extend beyond merely achieving compensation in terms of this settlement agreement.

“One of the requirements of the Trust Deed is that we also assist claimants to apply for statutory benefits under the Occupational Diseases in Mines and Works Act,” she explains, “and the submissions we make under this act is likely to prove invaluable in helping government to address its overall backlogs in this regard and, potentially, secure additional compensation for Q(h)ubeka Trust claimants as well.”

“As the Trustees and staff of Q(h)ubeka Trust, we believe passionately in the importance of the work we are doing and we are absolutely determined to see all qualifying claimants, and the families of deceased qualifying claimants, compensated for their illnesses,” Dr Kisting-Cairncross concludes, “and while we know that money can never restore these claimants to full health, or return the deceased claimants to their loved ones, the settlement payments will most certainly contribute towards helping them enjoy a better quality of life they deserve.”

Silicosis occurs to varying degrees in victims of the illness, but is essentially caused by the progressive and incurable scarring of the lung by tiny silica particles inhaled as the person works. Such scarring of the lung greatly raises the person’s risk of contracting TB.

The original compensation lawsuit centred on the premise that the mining houses were aware of the dangers of silica-related diseases to their mineworkers, but took no effective action to protect those workers from the disease.

As evidence of the potential severity of the disease, about 500 of the original claimants passed away during the litigation process. Efforts continue to ensure that settlement payments for those deceased who had silicosis will be made to their surviving loved ones. 

12 Jan 2018

By Robyn Grimsley
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