Anglo American faces class action lawsuit over Kabwe lead poisoning

Anglo American is facing a huge class lawsuit for its past corporate practices over lead poisoning in Zambia’s Kabwe town.

Johannesburg-based attorneys Mbuyisa Moleele and London-based human rights law firm Leigh Day are preparing the case and an application to certify a class action will be filed in the Johannesburg High Court.

This is seen as a necessary first step in a class action against Anglo-American.

Indian mining giant Vedanta Resources which the Zambian government does not want any more, is also connected to Anglo American.

The case of lead contamination involving Anglo stems from health issues linked to Kabwe, which Leigh Day said in a statement was once the world’s largest lead mine and operated from around 1915 until its closure in 1994. The law firm said Anglo owned and operated the mine from 1925 to 1974.

However, the diversified miner argues that the operation was nationalised and has been operated by the government for two decades.

Anglo American was one of the six companies involved in the R5bn silicosis class-action case in SA brought on behalf of former gold miners made ill by inhaling silica dust.

“The purpose of the action will be to secure compensation for victims of lead poisoning, including the cost of an effective medical monitoring system for blood lead levels among the community,” the two firms said in a statement on Friday.

They argue the mine was “owned and operated and/or managed” by Anglo American SA between 1925 and 1974 — the operation’s “most productive period”.

“It is alleged that from 1925 to 1974, Anglo American SA played a key role in the management of the medical, engineering and other technical services at the mine, and that it failed to take adequate steps to prevent lead poisoning of the local residents,” the lawyers said.

The mine was closed in 1994, after it was nationalised and taken from Anglo in 1974.

In its defence, Anglo said on Friday it was “one of a number of investors in the company that owned the Kabwe mine”.

“Anglo American was, however, at all times, far from being a majority owner. 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,” the London-based miner said.

“Since the nationalisation more than 40 years ago effectively placed these issues under the control of the Zambian government, we are not in a position to comment further about the matter, but we certainly don’t believe that Anglo American is in any way responsible for the current situation.”

The Human Rights Watch has published a report that puts Kabwe as the most toxic town, having disastrous effects on children’s health.

Credit: Zambia Reports

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