The class action lawsuit has been made on behalf of more than 100,000 individuals from the region

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Anglo American South Africa operated the Kabwe lead mine between 1925 and 1974 (Credit: Khusen Rustamov from Pixabay)

Anglo American South Africa (AASA) has been hit with a class action lawsuit in South Africa over allegations that its previously-owned Kabwe lead mine caused mass poisoning among children in Kabwe, Zambia.

The lawsuit has been filed against the Anglo American subsidiary in the Gauteng Division of the High Court of South Africa by lawyers from Mbuyisa Moleele and Leigh Day.

The class action has been filed on behalf of more than 100,000 individuals in the Kabwe district, who are claimed to have been poisoned by lead contamination of soil, dust, water, and vegetation on a large scale.

Leigh Day says the application is brought by 13 representative plaintiffs on behalf of children under 18, and girls and women who have been, or may become, pregnant.

Lead is claimed to have been discharged from a smelter, ore-processing facilities and tailings dumps associated with the Kabwe mine, which was originally called Broken Hill.

Leigh Day stated: “The class action seeks to pursue remedies in the form of compensation for these children, as well as girls and women with lead poisoning who have or may become pregnant in the future.

“Also sought is (a) blood lead screening for children and pregnant women in Kabwe, and (b) clean up and remediation of the area to ensure the health of future generations of children and pregnant women is not jeopardised.”


Anglo American’s association with the Kabwe lead mine

Anglo American South Africa operated the mine as part of its group between 1925 and 1974, during which it was considered one of the most productive lead mines in the world. It was thereafter sold to Zambian Consolidated Copper Mines (ZCCM).

The Zambian lead mine also produced zinc, silver, manganese, and some heavy metals.

It was officially closed in 1994 as its operations were found to be economically unfeasible at that time.


Allegations against Anglo American South Africa

Anglo American South Africa faces allegations of failing to rectify shortcomings in the design and systems of operation and control of lead at the project. These caused significant emissions of lead into the local environment, according to Leigh Day.

It is also alleged that the company did not ensure the clean-up of the contaminated land of the local communities.

Anglo American has said it will “take all necessary steps to vigorously defend its position”, noting that it was one of a number of investors in the company that owned the Kabwe mine until the early 1970s.

It added in a statement: “Anglo American was 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.”

The lawsuit claims nearly two thirds of the lead currently in the local environment was likely deposited there during the involvement of Anglo American South Africa between 1925 and 1974.

Leigh Day partner and head of its international department 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.

“This ongoing public health disaster is the result of a flagrant disregard for the health of the local community, which is totally at odds with those grand public pronouncements.”