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21 October 2020

Leigh Day teams up with South African firm to file class action claim against Anglo American

Firms allege Zambian mine's lead contamination has affected an estimated 1,000-plus people

By John Malpas

Lawrence Thompson

South African law firm Mbuyisa Moleele has teamed up with the UK’s Leigh Day to launch a class action against Anglo American over alleged lead contamination affecting an estimated 100,000-plus Zambians.

The claim, which is backed by UK litigation funder Augusta Ventures, was filed today in the Gauteng Division of the High Court of South Africa against Anglo American South Africa Limited (AASA), a subsidiary of Anglo American.

It relates to alleged contamination caused by a lead mine in the Kabwe District of Zambia and has been brought by 13 representative plaintiffs on behalf of children under 18, and girls and women who have been or may become pregnant in the future, according to a statement released by the two firms.

The court filing alleges the claimants, who are principally young children, are suffering from lead poisoning.

The claimants say the Kabwe mine was part of AASA group from 1925 until 1974, when it was transferred to ZCCM, a Zambian state-owned company, before closing in 1994.

They maintain that around two thirds of the lead currently in the local environment is likely to have been deposited before 1974 and accuse AASA of failing to rectify “deficiencies in the design and systems of operation and control of lead” and also failing to clean up contaminated land.

Leigh Day partner and head of international Richard Meeran said: “From the 1950s, Anglo American publicly committed to making a lasting contribution to communities in which it operated. Its current human rights policy is to contribute to remediation when its business has contributed to adverse human rights impacts.”

In a statement, Anglo American said: "Anglo American notes reports that a case has been filed in South Africa in relation to alleged lead poisoning in Zambia. The company will review the claims made and will take all necessary steps to vigorously defend its position.

"By way of context, Anglo American was one of a number of investors in the company that owned the Kabwe mine until the early 1970s. Anglo American was, however, at all times, far from being a majority owner. Furthermore, in the early 1970s the company that owned the mine was nationalised by the Government of Zambia and for more than 20 years thereafter the mine was operated by a State-owned body until its closure in 1994."

Mbuyisa Moleele and Leigh Day say the location of the court application to certify the class action means the claimants will "benefit from South African class action procedure, attorneys and counsel experienced in running complex class action litigation against multinationals".

In 2018, South African gold producers agreed a $400m class action settlement with law firms representing thousands miners suffering from silicosis and tuberculosis. At the time, it was dubbed the most far-reaching class action settlement ever reached in the jurisdiction.

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