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Johannesburg court approves $353 mln silicosis settlement

JOHANNESBURG, July 26 (Reuters) - A Johannesburg High Court on Friday approved a 5 billion rand ($353 million) class action settlement between gold mining companies and law firms representing thousands of miners who contracted the fatal lung diseases silicosis and tuberculosis.

The settlement follows a long legal battle by miners to win compensation for illnesses they say they contracted over decades because of negligence in health and safety.

"All the parties made an effort to ensure that the settlement agreement is reasonable, adequate and fair," the High Court said in its judgement.

The gold producers agreed in May last year to the settlement but it needed to be approved by the Johannesburg High Court before being implemented.

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.

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

The companies involved are Harmony Gold, Gold Fields, African Rainbow Minerals ARIJ.J, Sibanye-Stillwater SGLJ.J, AngloGold Ashanti and Anglo American South Africa. The latter no longer has gold assets but historically was a bullion producer. ($1 = 14.1591 rand) (Reporting by Tanisha Heiberg. Editing by Jane Merriman)