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First payments in South African silicosis settlement expected in Q2

CAPE TOWN, Feb 5 (Reuters) - The first payments to miners who contracted the fatal lung diseases silicosis and tuberculosis from a 5 billion rand ($340 million) class action settlement by gold producers are expected in the second quarter of 2020, a lawyer for the companies said on Wednesday.

The companies involved are Harmony Gold, Gold Fields, African Rainbow Minerals, Sibanye-Stillwater, AngloGold Ashanti and Anglo American South Africa. The latter no longer has gold assets but at one time was a bullion producer.

The most far-reaching class action settlement ever reached in South Africa followed a long legal battle by miners to win compensation for illnesses they say they contracted over decades because of negligence in health and safety.

The exact number of eligible claimants is unknown but is expected to be less than 100,000, attorney Michael Murray told a mining industry conference, the Mining Indaba, in Cape Town.

The class action suit was launched in 2012 on behalf of miners suffering from silicosis, an incurable disease caused by inhaling silica dust from gold-bearing rocks, and a settlement was agreed by mining firms in 2018.

It causes shortness of breath, a persistent cough and chest pains, and makes people highly susceptible to tuberculosis.

(Reporting by Wendell Roelf and Tanisha Heiberg; editing by David Evans)