Catholic Church in South Africa Seeking Justice for Victims of Corporate Abuse

Fr. Stanslaus Muyebe. Credit: Ordo Praedicatorum/Facebook

The Justice and Peace Commission of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) is working to ensure that victims of human rights violations perpetrated by powerful multinational corporations in the country get justice.

These include ex-miners suffering from a variety of life-threatening health complications owing to exposure to dangerous substances, victims of poor food handling and those who were involved in accidents due to greed in the country’s transport sector.

In a Tuesday, August 23 SACBC report, the Director of the SACBC Justice and Peace Commission (JPC), Fr. Stan Muyebe, says that it is the poorest of the poor who are hardest hit when multinational corporations and domestic firms decide to prioritize profit over human dignity.

Fr. Muyebe notes that this has particularly been the case with the ex-miners suffering from silicosis and black lung disease in South Africa’s gold and coal mining sectors respectively.

“The Justice and Peace Commission has been at the center of demanding justice for such workers, insisting to the mining industry that the health of the working poor is more important than profit,” the member of the Order of Preachers (Dominicans – OP) says.


In South Africa, he adds, the benefits of mining and its massive wealth have not been equitably shared with mining communities and the workers who are often used by the mines as cheap and disposable labor.

Highlighting a number of interventions of the SACBC Justice and Peace Commission in the plight of the sick miners, Fr. Muyebe says that the Commission was involved in the last stages of the class action lawsuit on silicosis by providing mediation to disputing parties.

The Justice Commission had worked on the 2019 case together with Denis Hurley Peace Institute (DHPI) of SACBC.

“The meditations of the dispute were important for the decision by the High Court as to whether or not to approve the R4 Billion silicosis settlement agreement,” the Catholic Priest says, noting that since the approval of the settlement, Justice and Peace has continued with its advocacy to exert pressure on a trust to expedite settlement of compensation claims submitted by gold miners from South Africa and other African countries.

Fr. Muyebe says that other than silicosis, there is also a problem of black lung disease, also known as pneumoconiosis, linked to sick miners in the coal mining sector.  

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“Miners in South Africa have some of the highest rates of black lung diseases in the world. Such miners now want to lodge a class action lawsuit.  The Justice and Peace Commission is assisting them and the lawyers as they prepare to launch the class action lawsuit,” Fr. Muyebe says, clarifying that the lawsuit will involve demanding reparation from five coal mining companies, some of which are multinational companies. 

According to the member of the Dominicans, the work of defending the poor in cases of corporate violation of human rights is not limited to the mining industry. He says, “Together with lawyers, the Justice and Peace Commission is also providing accompaniment to victims who opened class action lawsuits linked to listeriosis outbreak.”

He says that in 2017 and 2018, more than 300 families lost their loved ones and more than 1,000 people got sick after eating listeria-infected processed meat. 

Fr. Muyebe adds that the majority of the victims were the poor, noting that processed meat is food that is affordable to the poor. 

The Commission is also accompanying the poor who want to lodge a class action lawsuit against Toyota SA and banks over illegal conversion of minibus taxis and ambulances.  


The SACBC Justice and Peace official notes that the poor involved in this case are people who lost their loved ones or got injured between 2005 and 2013 during accidents linked to three-seater panel vans that were illegally converted to taxis and ambulances.    

“The report on the illegal conversion issue by the public protector in 2019 found that the illegally converted taxis were not safe for the road and contributed to a massive number of accidents, where hundreds of people sustained injuries and loss of lives,” Fr Muyebe says in the August 23 SACBC report.

He recalls that the vehicles were modified into minibus taxis to carry passengers despite the fact they were not safe for that purpose, and that banks and other stakeholders who were involved in these unsafe taxis prioritized profit over the safety of the poor who often use such public transport.

According to the Priest, the common thread in all the cases that the commission has taken up is the fact that the poor are the ones who are victims.

These, he says, are the working poor who contracted lung diseases in the mines, the poor who suffered loss of lives after eating listeria-infected polonies, and the poor who suffered loss of lives when using the taxis as the public transport for the poor.

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Fr. Muyebe maintains that it is the poorest of the poor who are hardest hit when multinational corporations and domestic firms decide to prioritize profit over human dignity. 

He notes that such poor people do not have resources, power and voice when confronted by giant corporations, their powerful lawyers and their strong political connections. He says, “It is therefore important that the church, the human rights lawyers and civil society stand with them and their struggles when they decide to demand justice and reparation from powerful corporations.” 

“It is true that South Africa and other African countries need multinational corporations and investments to facilitate increase in economic growth and job creation,” the Director of the SACBC Justice and Peace Commission admits.

He however quickly adds that in South Africa and other African countries, it should not be business as usual when multinational corporations and domestic companies deliberately cause massive loss of lives and injuries among the poorest of the poor.

“We are sending a strong message to political and business leaders that they should place ethical values at the center of economic and business activities,” says Fr. Muyebe.

He explains that in practice, this means that, in their business and economic decisions, they should prioritize the protection of the dignity of the poor and the integrity of God’s creation over wealth creation for investors.

“They should also make sure that trade and investment agreements are guided by the demands of integral human development. Trade and investments agreements should therefore be accompanied and regulated by human rights and environmental impact assessments,” Fr. Muyebe says in the August 23 SACBC report.

Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.