South Africa miners
An ex-miner who contracted silicosis, displays an employment document showing that he worked at Anglo American Plc\'s gold mines for a decade, at his home in Cape Town, South Africa, on Thursday, April 21, 2011. S Jose Cendon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A court in Johannesburg, South Africa, has given the go ahead for former gold miners to sue 32 mining companies over health issues allegedly developed while working in mines. The workers contracted silicosis, an incurable lung disease caused by the inhalation of silica rock dust.

The South Gauteng High Court's ruling has paved the way for what could become the largest class action in South Africa's history. Fifty-six plaintiffs represent more than 25,000 people who contracted silicosis or tuberculosis, or died of lung cancer.

The verdict came months after mining giants Anglo American and AngloGold Ashanti agreed to pay 500m rand (£22m) in compensation to gold miners and relatives of deceased workers, eNCA news broadcaster reported.