Key witness says Anglo knew employees were at risk of lead poisioning at Kabwe mine

A DOCTOR who worked at Kabwe in Zambia at the time Anglo American was invested in a nearby lead mine said the UK group was aware employees were at risk of lead poisoning.

“Mine Management were certainly aware of the risk of lead poisoning to their employees; the blood levels of all staff were checked regularly,” said Dr. Ian Lawrence in an affidavit. Dr. Lawrence worked at Kabwe from 1969 to the early Seventies.

His affidavit is part of a class action case representing over 100,000 Zambians launched in October 2020. The class action case is being heard at the High Court (Gauteng) in South Africa, and alleges Anglo bears responsibility for the poisoning of “generations of children”.

Anglo’s said that Dr Lawrence’s affidavit contains factual inaccuracies which it considers “… not surprising given the passage of time and his own admission that he is not certain of many details”.

The class action application was brought by 13 representative plaintiffs on behalf of children under 18, as well as girls and women who have been or may become pregnant in the future. The lawsuit said Anglo American South Africa (AASA) is liable for “… substantial emissions of lead into the local environment owing to deficiencies in the design and systems of operation and control of lead which AASA failed to ensure were rectified”.

Anglo is seeking a second extension before filing its reply. It has argued in the past that it was only a part-investor in the mine (it was controlled by Zambia Broken Hill Development Company) and that it did not operate the mine. It also states that it divested of its shares in Kabwe mine whereafter the mine was nationalised by the Zambian government.

According to Johannesburg attorneys, Mbuyisa Moleele in collaboration with Leigh Day, a UK human rights attorneys, Anglo is arguing it does not hold documents of relevance to the Kabwe mine. The doctor’s affidavit indicates otherwise, the attorneys argue.

His corroborating statement says: “… I became deeply concerned at the number of deaths amongst children under the age of five in the residential township where local employees lived … the difference in the number of deaths between mine children and local children was reasonably significant, so much so that I could not understand why no-one else had raised the issue or carried out an investigation.”

The attorney also says that documents Anglo states it cannot locate “… were in fact handed over in the similar case against Anglo American and AngloGold for failing to protect their workers from silicosis”.

Said Anglo it was seeking “critical … documents and information which Mbuyisa Moleele and Leigh Day have in their possession or have had access to during the many years in which they have been preparing the claims (since 2003)”.

Anglo’s application for the extension will be heard today and Tuesday.

Leigh Day is renowned for successfully suing mining corporates for human rights abuses in the past.