Anglo American South Africa Ltd (AASA) was today ordered by a UK High Court judge to disclose an array of documents to ex-gold miners who are suing AASA for silicosis in a mass action in the UK High Court.
In the UK litigation, commenced in September 2011, London law firm Leigh Day & Co represents more than 1500 claimants who worked on Anglo's mines in South Africa up to 1998.
The number of claimants is increasing on an on-going basis. AASA disputes UK jurisdiction. However the claimants argue that AASA has its "central administration" in London where head office company Anglo American plc is based and therefore under European law AASA is domiciled in the UK and the UK courts have jurisdiction.
AASA contends that its central administration is in Johannesburg where its board meets and takes decisions regarding the running of AASA's business. At hearings in May and June, the claimants sought disclosure of documents that would shed light on where key decisions regarding AASA's business were in fact taken. AASA argued that the claimants have no right to the documents because their claim, that AASA was centrally administered from London, was unarguable.
Giving judgment, Mr Justice Silber concluded that there were "a number of factors, which cumulatively satisfy me that the claimants have at the very least an arguable case" that AASA"s central administration was is London. The judge referred to the roles of Godfrey Gomwe [AASA CEO] and his close working links with Anglo American plc and of the London-based Anglo Group Management and Executive Committees.
In ordering disclosure, the judge concluded that without disclosure of documents there was a "very great risk that the claimants will be contesting jurisdiction at an unfair disadvantage".
The Claimants' lawyer Richard Meeran from Leigh Day & Co said: "we believe bringing this case in the UK is in our clients' interests as English courts have well-developed case management procedures for dealing with mass legal actions and the claimants will be entitled to damages at UK levels."
South African silicosis litigation in the Johannesburg High Court, in which Leigh Day is assisting been assisting the Legal Resources Centre (Jbg) since 2004, is still on-going. This Jbg litigation has funding from Legal Aid South Africa. It comprises 18 individuals employed on Anglo's President Steyn Mine in the Free State. Silicosis is caused by excessive dust exposure and increases the risk of contracting TB, which is endemic in rural South Africa.
The combination of silicosis and TB is often fatal. Rates of silicosis and TB are very high among black gold miners, who undertook the dustiest jobs in the mines. Professor Tony Davies has described a "river of disease flowing out of the South African gold mines". Exact numbers of victims are unknown but tens of thousands are likely to have been affected.
AASA, registered in Johannesburg, is now owned by London-based global mining giant, Anglo American plc. AASA was the head office company of the Anglo group until 1998 and was the largest gold miner in South Africa for most of the 20th century, having 12 mines within its group.
During apartheid, AASA recruited hundreds of thousands of labourers from the former "bantustans" (home lands), such as Transkei (now in the Eastern Cape) and neighbouring states, in particular Lesotho. The claimants allege that that miners' excessive exposure to dust was caused by the negligence of AASA in its control over and advice given to its gold mines.