By Ed Stoddard
JOHANNESBURG, March 11 (Reuters) - South African gold producers will likely reach a settlement within six weeks in a lawsuit over a fatal lung disease that companies have set aside 5 billion rand ($420 million) in provisions for, a lawyer and industry group said on Sunday.
“I am confident we will finalise the settlement within six weeks,” Richard Spoor, the human rights lawyer who has spearheaded the class action suit over the disease silicosis, which gold miners contract while working underground, told Reuters.
A spokesman for the working group on Occupational Lung Disease (OLD), a group put together by the six companies involved, said it was is “hopeful” the settlement can be reached in that timeframe.
The settlement would still need to be approved by a High Court before it was implemented.
In February, Graham Briggs, the chair of the working group, said the settlement was seen within “months”. On top of the 5 billion rand that companies have made in provisions, there is 4 billion rand available from a compensation fund to which the industry has been contributing for years.
The suit was launched around six years ago on behalf of miners suffering from silicosis, contracted by inhaling silica dust in gold mines.
Almost all of the claimants are black miners from South Africa and neighbouring countries such as Lesotho, whom critics say were not provided with adequate protection during and even after apartheid rule ended in 1994.
The six companies involved are Harmony Gold, Gold Fields, African Rainbow Minerals, Sibanye-Stillwater, AngloGold Ashanti and Anglo American.
Anglo American no longer has gold assets but historically was a bullion producer.
$1 = 11.8078 rand Editing by Jason Neely