Johannesburg High Court has ruled that gold miners who developed lung diseases from working underground in South Africa can claim compensation from gold mining companies.

It opens the way for existing and former miners to pursue a class action against mining companies for damages, for those suffering from diseases such as silicosis and pulmonary tuberculosis from dangerous underground working conditions.

Many miners are believed to have inhaled silica dust while performing drilling, resulting in incurable lung disease silicosis.

Deputy judge president Phineas Mojapelo’s ruling in the South Gauteng High Court leads the way to litigation that involved miners and put pressure on the mining industry.

Speaking on the ruling, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) said: "So many lives have been destroyed by the reckless failure of mine bosses to ensure that mineworkers are not exposed to the silica dust.

"Mining companies have been and are still the biggest beneficiaries of the colonial and apartheid capitalism that still haunts this country’s economy."

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"Under the constitution, you will no longer get away with treating your workers as if they are not human beings."

COSATU stated that the mining companies should not abandon their responsibilities and compensate victims of the silica dust.

They are also required to ensure that there is an industry-wide training and retraining scheme that will give miners useful skills.

Furthermore, COSATU urged restrictions of the mining industry and said that the government should also take 50% ownership of all mining companies in the country.

The Treatment Action Campaign general secretary Anele Yawa said: "For over 100 years, the mining companies have simply allowed their employees to get sick with silicosis and tuberculosis.

"They knew how to protect their workers, but they chose not to do so. This judgment says to those companies that apartheid is over. Under the constitution, you will no longer get away with treating your workers as if they are not human beings."

Image: Miners who have inhaled silica dust while performing drilling have caught incurable lung disease silicosis. Photo: courtesy of worradmu/