About the Class Action Suit
We are issuing an urgent plea to AASA to fund the medical
monitoring and treatment for children who have been
ABOUT THE CLASS ACTION SUIT
South African Attorneys, Mbuyisa Moleele Attorneys, in collaboration with London-based human rights lawyers, Leigh Day, have filed a lead poisoning class action lawsuit against Anglo American South Africa Limited (“AASA”) on behalf of a class that could potentially exceed more than 100,000 Zambian children and women of childbearing age. The claim arises from environmental contamination of villages in close proximity to the Kabwe lead mine (formerly known as Broken Hill), in the District of Kabwe, Zambia. Medical studies conducted over the past 45 years have consistently shown massive levels of lead in a significant proportion of young children in Kabwe. Generations of children have been affected.
The mine operated between 1906 and 1994 and is alleged to have been within AASA group control from 1925 until 1974.
AASA is a South African subsidiary of London-headquartered multinational mining company Anglo American PLC and hold all the South African assets of the Group.
The class action seeks compensation for lead poisoning of these children and for women under 50 who have been poisoned who have, or may become pregnant, in the future. The cost of remediation of homes and of future blood lead screening is also claimed. It is hoped that the class action will lead to: (a) the establishment of a blood lead level (“BLL”) screening system for children and pregnant women in Kabwe; and (b) clean up and remediation of the area to ensure the health of future generations of children and pregnant women is not jeopardised.
A court application to certify the class action was issued in the Johannesburg High Court on 20 October 2020. The application is brought by 13 representative plaintiffs on behalf of:
- children (under 18) who live in Kabwe District who have suffered injury from lead exposure
- women who have lived in Kabwe District and have suffered injury from lead exposure that significantly increases adverse health risks during pregnancy to themselves and their unborn children
By taking legal action in South Africa, the victims will benefit from South African class action procedure, attorneys and counsel experienced in running complex class action litigation against multinationals. Augusta Ventures, one of the UK’s largest litigation funding organisations is covering experts’ fees and a substantial proportion of the legal costs.
ABOUT THE CLASS ACTION SUIT
Anglo American’s Alleged Responsibility
The Mine is alleged to have been within AASA group control from 1925 until 1974, during which time it was one of the most productive mines in the region. It is alleged that AASA is liable because it played a key role in controlling, managing, supervising and advising on technical, medical and safety aspects of the operations of the mine, deficiencies in which resulted in heavy contamination of the local environment with lead. This then poisoned the local community over a period of decades and several generations. It is alleged that the risk of lead poisoning of the community was, or ought to have been, foreseen at the time by AASA and that AASA was negligent in that it failed to ensure that any or any adequate steps to minimise the risk of harm to the community were taken.
“It is essential to improve the conditions in the Lead Smelter Plant as it is inevitable that sooner or later, genuine cases of Lead Poisoning will occur”
- Dr van Blommestein, AASA Chief Medical Officer, 1949
“The management of the Rhodesia Broken Hill Mine is very much alive to the lead poisoning hazard”
– CT Hardy, 1949
According to engineering and environmental experts, key factors in the high level of environmental contamination were: wholly inadequate systems for controlling lead emissions from the smelter and mine; huge levels of production in very close proximity to villages; villages downwind of the mine and the very low stack height of the smelter resulting in emissions swirling around the dry and barren Kabwe District.
Experts have said that:
- Residents should not have been living in such close proximity to the mining operations.
- AASA failed to prevent excessive emissions of lead from its operations in the first place.
- in 1974 AASA handed over to a Zambian state-owned company a mining operation that was clearly hazardous.
The claimants allege that the risk of environmental poisoning from lead mines to the wider community, including the impact on children, was known from the late 1800s and at Kabwe, AASA was aware from the 1940s that the danger from lead dust and fumes did not stop at the plant doors. They were also aware of serious deficiencies in control of lead emissions and of the close proximity to the mine of the local villages.
According to the Claimants’ experts approximately two thirds of the Mine’s total lead production was produced during the period when it was an Anglo American mine (1925-1974) and a corresponding proportion of the lead pollution present in the environment of Kabwe District today was caused during this time.
Back In 1954, Ernest Oppenheimer, Chairman of AASA pronounced that:
“The aim of the group is, and will remain, to make profits for our shareholders, but to do it in such a way as to make a lasting contribution to the communities in which we operate”.
AASA’s shareholders were the main financial beneficiaries of Kabwe over many decades. Meanwhile, the local communities have continued for generations to be the victims of lead poisoning.
Anglo American’s current Group Human Rights Policy states that:
“Where we have caused or contributed to adverse human rights impacts we will contribute to their remediation as appropriate.”
In an October 2020 speech, Mark Cutifani, Chief Executive of Anglo American stated:
“We are acutely aware of the deep and lasting effects of our history as an industry. I would even go as far as arguing that we are one of the very few industries that has had to reckon with the legacies of our past in a real and progressive way. While our progress is encouraging, we are still not where we need to be”
To date, AASA does not appear to have done anything to ensure or facilitate clean-up of the lead contamination.
About Leigh Day
Leigh Day is a British human rights law firm that works for individuals and communities whose rights have been violated. Their international human rights and environmental specialists represent people all over the world fighting for justice and challenging powerful corporate and government interests.
Leigh Day has a long and successful history running class actions against multinationals for claimants in developing countries and, in particular, for individuals on the African Continent. Its has been successful in cases against:
- Thor Chemicals on behalf South African workers poisoned by mercury at a factory in KwaZulu-Natal, which was settled in 1997 and 2000 (South Africa); Cape plc for 7,500 South African asbestos miners in , which settled in 2003 (South Africa);
- AASA, working first as consultants to the Legal Resources Centre and then to MM in claims in South Africa by 4,385 former gold-miners or relatives of deceased gold-miners who contracted silicosis during their employment on mines operated by Anglo American South Africa and Anglo Gold Ashanti in South Africa (South Africa);
- African Barrick Gold and its subsidiary, North Mara Gold Mine Limited, on behalf of 13 Tanzanians in relation to injuries and fatalities at the North Mara mine in Tanzania;
- Shell in a claim by 15,000 Nigerian fishermen for loss of livelihoods arising from oil pollution (Nigeria);
- Trafigura on behalf of 30,000 residents of Cote D’Ivoire arising from the dumping of toxic waste (Cote D’Ivoire);
- Gemfields Limited for 273 Mozambicans in relation to serious human rights abuses at or around the Montepuez ruby mine in northern Mozambique (Mozambique); and
- Konkola Copper Mines and its parent company Vedanta Resources Plc on behalf of 1826 Zambian villagers in a claim alleging damage to land and health as a result of toxic effluent discharge from the Nchanga Copper Mine (Zambia).
Richard Meeran, a Partner and Head of International at Leigh Day, has been a partner at the firm since 1991. He has pioneered claims against multinationals, making them accountable for their exploitation of workers and harm to local communities and environment.
About Mbuyisa Moleele
Mbuyisa Moleele Attorneys is a 100% black owned law firm with a collective knowledge and experience of 20 years in various fields of law including public interest law, civil litigation and family law.
The firm prides itself in providing sound legal advice and practical legal solutions to clients within its areas of specialisation.
Zanele Mbuyisa, director and co-founder of the firm, has 19 years of experience in practice. She has been involved in several large and high profile cases against multinationals in South Africa. She and Richard Meeran worked together on the Cape Plc case 20 years ago and on the silicosis litigation in the SA courts from 2003 to 2016. Including on the cases of Chakalane & Ors v Anglo American and Qubeka & Ors v Anglo Gold brought by 4,385 former gold-miners or relatives of deceased gold-miners who contracted silicosis during their employment on mines operated by Anglo American South Africa and Anglo Gold Ashanti in South Africa in which Zanele was the Plaintiffs’ attorney.