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Last Updated:  Thursday, 13 March, 2003, 15:33 GMT
SA mineworkers win asbestos payout
South African mineworkers have won some 490m rand (37.6m; $60.3m) in compensation for having been exposed to asbestos in the largest settlement in the country's history.

The deal, agreed by former mining finance house Gencor on behalf of its former units Gefco and Msauli, is the first time black mineworkers have won compensation from a South African company, rather than a foreign one.

A trust fund set up to compensate 1,600 workers and their families over the next 25 years will receive 378m rand, while another 42.5m will go to former employees of Cape plc, a UK company which has finally agreed a 7.5m payout to its own ex-employees after years of legal strife.

A further 40m rand is being kept by Gencor for three years in case of further court action, after which it will go into the main Asbestos Relief Fund.

'A measure of justice'

Gencor is only one of a number of companies around the world facing suits concerning asbestos exposure.

Whether through mining or building, workers exposed to asbestos risk lung cancer and other killer respiratory including mesothelemia and asbestosis.

We stepped in and said: 'No, you don't hand out your assets to your shareholders until you've settled your debts to the mineworkers whose lives you've ruined'
Tom Jones
partner at Thompsons Solicitors
Even though the company has not admitted liability, the National Union of Mineworkers said its members - both deceased and still living - were ensured "a measure of justice, albeit small".

"This settlement sends a clear message... that companies can no longer go on with business as usual in the hope of avoiding responsibility for their actions," the union said in a statement.

Held up

In the meantime, Gencor - once one of South Africa's biggest conglomerates - can finish putting itself out of business.

For some years it has been hiving off its various subsidiaries, including selling the Billiton mining unit to Australia's BHP, and splitting-off the Sappi pulp and paper group.

But the distribution - planned for last October - to shareholders of its 46% stake in Impala Platinum, its sole remaining major asset, was held up by the lawyers for the claimants.

"It's a moribund company that was going to hand out its assets to shareholders," Tom Jones, partner at Thompsons Solicitors in London, told BBC News Online.

"But we stepped in and said: 'No you don't, not until you've settled your debts to the mineworkers whose lives you've ruined'."

The share distribution is now set for 30 June, with the money being transferred to the trust fund the following day.

Richard Meeran of lawyers Leigh Day and Co
"They were entitled to more than this, morally and legally in my view, they should have got a lot more"

Lawsuit fillip for asbestos miners
01 Oct 02 |  Business
Threat of new asbestos lawsuit
03 Sep 02 |  Business

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