South Africa plans 1.5 billion rand ($124 million) of payouts from a compensation fund for miners suffering from lung diseases that affect about 700,000 people, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said.

Companies including AngloGold Ashanti Ltd., the world’s third-biggest miner of the metal, are participating in the project rolled out by the Department of Health to unblock a backlog of 500,000 claims. Compensation will apply to sufferers of tuberculosis, silicosis, and other illnesses, Motsoaledi said. Workers from other countries are also eligible to apply, he said.

“Our goal is to compensate current and ex-mineworkers who have submitted valid and compensable claims,” he told reporters in Carletonville, a gold-mining town 86 kilometers (53 miles) west of Johannesburg. “I’m here to pay back the money.”

Silicosis, a lung disease caused by inhaling dust from mines, causes scar tissue in the lungs, increasing vulnerability to tuberculosis that can kill more than half of sufferers if not properly treated. South Africa is source of about a third of all gold yet produced globally and the continent’s biggest coal producer.

Separately, lawyers representing sufferers of silicosis say companies including AngloGold and Harmony Gold Mining Co. are to blame for workers catching the disease because they operated without adequate ventilation for the past 60 years.

Compensation Money
The compensation money will come from a 2.9 billion-rand fund administered by the Medical Bureau for Occupational Diseases, Motsoaledi said. The cash put in by mining companies has been saved over a number of years, he said. His department estimates that 1.5 billion rand of that will be paid out to affected miners. Payouts will range from 3,000 rand to 100,000 rand, he said.

Other companies participating in Project Ku-Riha, which means compensation in Tsonga, are African Rainbow Minerals Ltd., Anglo American Ltd., DRDGold Ltd., Gold Fields Ltd., Sibanye Gold Ltd. and Village Main Reef Ltd., they said in a joint e-mailed statement. They have committed to a 5 million-rand funding program to help administer the project.

Centers will be set up across the country to diagnose people and see whether they are eligible for compensation, he said.
The National Union of Mineworkers, Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, Solidarity and UASA support the fund, the minister said.

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