Miners in South Africa suffering from deadly lung disease get $400 million settlement

Gold miners win $400 million settlement

JOHANNESBURG -- A major lawsuit against gold mining companies is gaining global attention. Tens of thousands of South African miners will receive a portion of a $400 million settlement.

They're suffering from a deadly lung disease called silicosis after the miners inhaled dangerous dust while working underground for decades.

When CBS News first met Zwelindaba Mgidi, he didn't have much time left. He was slowly dying from silicosis, a degenerative lung disease contracted during his 33 years underground in South Africa's gold mines.

"I just sit around at home all day," he said. "It's very difficult and painful."

When he first entered the mine he was young, fit and a local boxing champion. Now he can barely walk a few steps without a hacking cough.

Mgidi is one of up to 200,000 silicosis sufferers who was not adequately protected, allowing harmful mining dust to settle in their lungs. Until recently, it was illegal for miners to sue a South African company for illnesses contracted while working there.

"I struggle to think of any other example anywhere in the world where so many people have got sick and died as a result of neglect," said Richard Spoor, an attorney.

Spoor has been waging a battle on behalf of miners for well over a decade. The $400 million settlement will be distributed among at least 100,000 miners or their families. Depending on how long they worked on the mines, they could get up to $60,000 in compensation.

Mgidi had been waiting 10 years to hear this news.

"I feel like my days are over," he told us. "I am just waiting for the day where I will just die."

That wait was over two months ago. Mgidi died never knowing the result of his long legal battle. He was buried next to his parents in a grave he had chosen a long time ago and which he proudly showed us while he was still alive.