M10 billion in limbo


. . . unclaimed funds could go land in govt coffers


MASERU – There are fears that most of the former Basotho miners who are owed over R12 billion in compensations by South African gold mines may not be traceable. Only M2 billion worth of compensation funds has traceable claimants or beneficiaries, which means that as of now, no one can be certain which ex-miners or beneficiaries should benefit from the M10 billion.

The Executive Director of the Ex-Miners Association of Lesotho, Rantšo Mantsi, said they were told about this by the then Minister of Public Service, Labour, and Employment, Richard Ramoeletsi, during a meeting on May 25, 2023, where small business owners, ex-miners, and street vendors were invited.

He said they asked the minister to give them proof of the findings stating that the M10 billion will go into government coffers because beneficiaries are unallocated, but, according to Mantsi, speaking in an exclusive interview with Public Eye on Wednesday this week, the minister said the government is not bound to do so.

“We just want to understand where the minister got the findings from and to show us that proof. What if the M10 billion that the government is going to use is mine or any other ex-miner’s, and now they are saying they cannot trace the owners? That is not possible. That is a lot of money to be used for the government’s purpose, yet there are so many beneficiaries out there wallowing in poverty,” he said.

The Minister of Law and Justice, Ramoeletsi, who was the then Minister of Public Service, Labour, and Employment, yesterday refuted the allegation levelled against to him. Instead, he said he had no idea about the M12 billion but it was the ex-miners personally went to him and told him about it. He said he then decided to call them to a meeting to hear their query and map a way forward.

“There was supposed to be a forum on August 20, 2023, which was postponed due to unforeseen circumstances, where we had invited relevant stakeholders in the matter, such as the Tshiamiso Trust, TEBA, and Rand Mutual Assurance (RMA), to mention a few. This was to find a way forward and assist those ex-miners on how they can get their claims,” he said.

Ramoeletsi further said that when he first came into office, different kinds of people approached him, telling him of the unclaimed benefits of Basotho ex-miners in South Africa. He said some were for former miners who had contracted silicosis and whose claims had been paid for by the Tshiamiso Trust.

He said the government has not received any kind of list from Tshiamiso with regards to the ex-miners who are supposed to get their claims.

He said Tshiamiso will facilitate on its own by allocating the people who worked in mines during the specific period who are eligible for compensation by testing whether they indeed have silica or tuberculosis (TB). He said the process includes even those who have already passed away. In line with this, there is a settlement agreement and trust deed that is categorised into 10 classes of claimants who, once properly certified, will be eligible for a benefit as follows: Silicosis Class 1 to 4, of which neither any of the Basotho ex-miners have made it to Class 4.

The minister said class one is worth M70 000, adding that this is an early stage of silicosis (lung function impairment of up to 10 percent); class two is compensable with M150 000; class three is compensable with M250 000; and class four is M500 000 with a defined special aggravated medical condition.

According to the Southern Africa Resource Watch (SARW), the issue of unclaimed benefits is a serious matter facing migrant workers throughout the world. At the end of their employment contracts, migrant workers often struggle to access their social security benefits. Sometimes they lack adequate documentation to claim what is due to them.

In Southern Africa, the situation is far more acute because of the movement of people from Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) countries such as Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Eswatini, Zimbabwe, and, to some extent, Zambia who migrated to South Africa to work in the mines, especially gold mines.

In December 2020, the Southern Africa Resource Watch (SARW) commissioned a study to identify the challenges faced by mineworkers (particularly migrant mineworkers) and their families in claiming their social security benefits. The study resulted in several important findings, among them that there are more than a thousand funds (1275 funds or administrators that have information regarding the unclaimed benefits) with four million beneficiaries, holding more than M42 billion in assets.

Public Eye Newspaper had an interview sometime last year with one of the widows struggling to get compensation on behalf of her deceased husband. ’Mamotlatsi Bitso, aged 59, is one of the widows who is struggling to get compensation on behalf of her deceased husband, as she cannot present a South African-issued death certificate or proof of residence for her deceased husband.

Bitso, who lives in Ha Makoae, Peka, is raising seven children single-handedly. She said during the submission of her documents to Tshiamiso, it was established that her husband used a South African identity document, and the system still recognises him as alive. Bitso said when her husband died from TB in 2008, she did not report his death in South Africa but only registered the death in Lesotho.

She said she is currently required to register her husband’s death in South Africa and present his proof of residence in order to get compensated. She explained that her husband was working in a gold mine in Welkom, returned home after contacting TB in 1997, and had been on treatment since then until he died in 2008.

Bitso said raising seven children on her own is very hard, especially without any source of income. She is a farmer, but she told Public Eye that lately she had been barely harvesting anything. She said she was told that the death certificate would take around six months to a year to be issued. Her worry is that she has neither the transportation to go to South Africa to apply for the death certificate nor the money to feed her family while waiting for the compensation.

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