Wednesday, April 24, 2024

South Africa hears historic class action against Anglo American for lead poisoning launched by Kabwe children and women

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The South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg will continue hearing a ground-breaking case brought by Zambian children and women against the mining giant Anglo American, seeking compensation for lead poisoning.

At the end of the 12-day hearing that opened on 20 January, the Court will decide whether to certify this unprecedented class action demanding that Anglo American South Africa remedy the adverse health impacts of its mining activities in Kabwe.

If the case proceeds, it will offer a unique opportunity for residents of Kabwe to have a day in court and secure judicial remedies for the alleged human rights abuses associated with Anglo American’s business operations.

Amnesty International and the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) were admitted as joint amici curiae (“friends of the court”) in August 2022 to brief the Court on international business and human rights standards and South African constitutional law relevant for the certification of the class action.

The human rights groups stress that South Africa’s duty to regulate the conduct of its companies extends beyond its territorial borders and that Anglo American’s responsibility to respect human rights should inform the Court’s decision to certify this class action.

This lawsuit has the potential to set a key legal precedent and fill an important accountability gap.
For years, human rights organizations have been amplifying residents of Kabwe’s calls for justice internationally.

At the hearing, representatives of the United Nations Special Procedures will also have a chance to present legal argument regarding corporates’ responsibility to remediate harm.

SALC’s Socio-Economic Rights Cluster Lead, Brigadier Siachitema, highlighted that:
“This case is not just another class action. Its certification is important not only to the people of Kabwe but to anyone who suffered human rights abuses as a result of transboundary corporate conduct by a South African company. South African courts have the power to level the imbalance and close the accountability gap that exists in practice. ”

Amnesty and SALC are represented by the Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS) and advocate Karabo van Heerden in this matter.

In October 2020, residents of Kabwe brought this civil lawsuit against Anglo American’s South African subsidiary, on behalf of an estimated 100,000 children and women, who report suffering injury from lead exposure as a result of century-long mineral extraction near their homes.

The Court’s decision of whether to certify this class action will unequivocally affect victims’ right to an effective remedy and access to justice.

The class action can only proceed to the trial stage if the High Court in Johannesburg grants certification of the class action.

The Kabwe lead mine—once known as the “Broken Hill”mine— was allegedly operated and managed by Anglo American between 1925 and 1974 and reportedly contributed to extensive environmental pollution in towns and communities living in the vicinity of the mining site.

Today, experts describe Kabwe as a “sacrifice zone” and one of the most lead-polluted places on earth.

Medical studies have shown that children from Kabwe have record-high levels of lead in their blood. Children and pregnant women are at particular risk from lead toxicity, which is known to cause permanent damage to internal organs, including the brain.

9 COMMENTS

  1. Where was ZEMA or its predecessor the Environmental Council of Zambia when all this was happening? They were obviously scratching their balls

    • Let me take u to school on these issues. Environmental awareness started in the late 1950s and gained prominence in the 1960s but it was not a mainstream issue. It was being championed by NGOs such as Greenpeace and a few concerned academics. Governments were too busy celebrating the economic growth of the post-war era to be bothered about the environment. And so the band played on. It was only in the 1970s that Western governments realised the dangers to the environment caused by some industries and started passing legislation to counter it.

    • @Gunner, the Occupational Safety & Health Act of 1970, and other subsequent Acts were in place at the time Kabwe was being polluted. Why wasn’t action taken against Anglo then? Or are you another of the many matole educationists around?

    • Meanwhile just google this: The US FDA says 94 percent of baby food in america has dangerous lead levels. Food vegetables and dry Cereals also teething biscuits have been found with high lead levels. Read at Healthy babies bright future

  2. Did lead stop being poisonous to people after nationalisation of the mine? ZCCM-IH should apply to join this case because in a fair world, the judgment is bound to affect the company.

  3. I hope this doesnt get sorted outside court like most Zambian cases against the mines …I hope the Zambian govt doesnt intervene this is what ZEMA should be doing but they are toothless.

  4. Anglo were there up to 1974. What about after 1974 why don’t you sue ZCCM because you know you will get nothing. This case isn’t about rectifying a wrong but just about how much money we can squeeze off Anglo in SA.

  5. Whats happening now? Are we sharing laws with South Africa? The Zambian public protector was today in Johannesburg testifying in a case against the SA Public Protector. I wonder why they chose the Zambian Public Protector who spends all her time sucking up to the ruling party in her country. Couldn’t they have got one from a free country?

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