SA coal industry must act to avoid multimillion dollar class actions

A former legislator warns South African coal industry it must act to avoid falling into same multimillion class action trap as gold miners.


After a successful class action suit against South Africa’s mining sector over silicosis, the country’s coal industry is being told it needs to ensure it does not lower air quality if it is to avoid ending up in the same litigious position. Earlier this month, South African gold producers agreed a 5 billion rand ($400 million) class action settlement thousands of mineworkers suffering from silicosis and/or tuberculosis contracted in air polluted underground mining environments.

Silicosis class action
The warning came from former Department of Energy (DoE) director-general Nelisiwe Magubane, who is currently a non-executive director of Eskom and chairperson of Matleng, a 70% women-owned company that provides energy solutions. She was responding to questions after delivering the keynote address at the Fossil Fuel Foundation’s workshop on air quality and emissions urging the fossil fuels industry to deploy cleaner technologies. Ms Magubane said: ‘I’m sure you’re aware of the latest settlement of billions of rands on the silicosis case with the mines. What we have in South Africa are very litigious people who, before we know it, are likely to litigate to say we are condemning people of Mpumalanga into having lower air quality standards.’ The province of Mpumalanga has a heavy concentration of coal-fired power stations that are owned and operated by State electricity utility Eskom. When asked about Asean countries all opting for clean fossil fuels as the cheapest sources of energy, Ms Magubane suggested ‘we need to look into that. We have a silicosis case already won and we need to be able to say to ourselves as the fossil fuels industry, what are we going to do to avoid being in the same space as the mining sector with silicosis?’

Regulation critcised
Ms Magubane argued South Africa needs to balance having cleaner energy environment, with an affordable to the economy of this country, which still needs to have an industrially intensive economy and absorb available skills. Ms Magubane also criticised the country’s policy of granting cost-reflective tariffs because they failed to take into account the level of efficiency of the state electricity utility Eskom and allowed its costs to be passed on to the customer. She explained ‘That’s no longer the right way of regulating.’

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