Activists at Sonke’s amici curiae application in case against SA gold mines

On the 24th and 25th of August 2015, Sonke Gender Justice and the Treatment Action Campaign, represented by Section27, presented their arguments in the South Gauteng High Court, in the Johannesburg CBD, in an application for permission to be amicus curiae (friends of the court) in a case that is attempting to launch a class action lawsuit against gold mining companies in South Africa. The class action includes 56 class representatives of more than 25,000 people. But up to 200,000 people across Southern Africa could stand to benefit from the legal action.

The case is being brought against 32 gold mining companies for failing to protect employees from silica dust inhalation that has led to their contracting occupational lung diseases. Within the class action there are two classes. The first are gold miners and the dependants of those who have died as a result of silicosis, and the second are gold miners with pulmonary tuberculosis and the relatives of those who have died of pulmonary tuberculosis. The class includes miners with cases from 1965 onwards.

The TAC‬ and ‪Sonke want to join the application to question the denial of the mineworkers’ Constitutional rights and show the negative impact the gold industry has had on labour-sending areas. Sonke policy specialist Tanya Charles said: “Gold mining impacts negatively on girls, women and communities. Women and girl children often take the burden of care for the men who return from gold mines sick with lung infections such as silicosis. This burden of care impacts on their ability to be productive or to get an education.”

The applicants want to make that impact visible. Women in communities are left to care for their sick men, perpetuating the cycle of poverty facing black women in rural areas. Sonke has been investigating the impact silicosis and tuberculosis among mineworkers has on communities and will use the information to explain the broader implications of occupational lung diseases.

As proceedings took place in court, community activists picketed to show their support for the case, outside the court building. The hearing continues tomorrow.

[Text written by Khopotso Bodibe]
[Pictures taken by Demelza Bush]