For decades both before and after apartheid, blacks from both South Africa and other nearby African countries worked in the gold mines of South Africa in deplorable conditions. In exchange for their subsistence wages the miners often worked deep underground with no effort made to prevent or remove the vast amounts of dust created by the mining process. As a result, silicosis was common. Tuberculosis was also rampant among the mine workers. With large numbers working in close proximity underground it spread quickly. Often when miners were diagnosed with these diseases, they were not told of the diagnosis, rather they were sent back to their villages with no plan for appropriate medical follow up or care.
The Courts of South Africa are still in the early stages of developing post-apartheid law. In early 2012, class action lawsuits were filed on behalf of the miners. On May 13, 2016, the High Court in Johannesburg issued an opinion certifying the class action. The decision has been appealed by the mining companies. The battle is far from over. But if the opinion stands, it will be truly historic. Relying largely on Roman and Dutch law, while also considering the laws of other countries including the United Kingdom and the United States, the Court rejected all of the arguments made by the mining companies and established for the first time the right of all injured miners in South Africa to obtain justice and monetary compensation for the harm done to them as a class instead of one miner at a time. As the court found, if class certification had been denied, the miners would have, as a practical matter, had no legal recourse.
Since late 2011 the Locks Law Firm has been providing critical support by creating and maintaining a sophisticated data base containing all of the relevant information regarding the miners who have retained South African counsel Charles Abrahams and the US-based Hausfeld Firm. We have received nearly 10,000 completed questionnaires from South Africa. Under the supervision of our CTO Leon Carelli, and using a data base he designed, we have provided needed information to the Firms who are litigating the case. We are extremely proud of our support and important role in this groundbreaking workers rights litigation.