MASERU – South African company, Global Med Health Services, has been mandated to test former Basotho gold miners for Tuberculosis (TB) and Silicosis in a bid to establish their eligibility for compensation from the mines.
It is the only company approved by the Ex-Miners Association of Lesotho and the government of Lesotho to provide the service. According to the association, any other company that is undertaking similar services is doing so illegally, therefore its data is considered invalid. A class action lawsuit on behalf of miners against 32 gold mining companies was heard by the South African High Court in 2016.
Following the lawsuit, a settlement was reached on May 3, 2018, after three years of extensive negotiations between the companies and the claimants’ attorneys. On July 26, 2019, the South Gauteng High Court approved the historic M5 billion settlement agreement, but with only six of the 32 gold mining companies, namely; the African Rainbow Minerals, Anglo American South Africa, AngloGold Ashanti, Goldfields, Harmony Gold and Sibanye-Stillwater.
The six gold mining companies agreed to settle out of court while the other 26 refused to settle and their case will continue. The Tshiamiso Trust was subsequently established in South Africa to carry out the terms of the settlement agreement reached with the six mining companies.
It is responsible for ensuring that all eligible ex-miners across southern Africa are compensated. The settlement agreement which is regarded as one of the most complex multi-party class action settlements ever concluded will see beneficiaries receiving between M100 000 and M500 000, depending on the degree of the disease.
Compensation for claimants who contracted tuberculosis will start from M110 000 with that for silicosis beginning at M200 000. However, not all ex-miners are eligible for compensation, as only those who contracted the two diseases will be entitled. To qualify for compensation, each miner will be medically assessed in order to confirm eligibility for recompense. Dependents of those that have died will have to produce proper documentation that links the deceased person to the two identified ailments.
As the journey towards compensation begins through testing of the ex-miners, there are two illegal companies that are bringing confusion, unlawfully testing people under the pretext that they have been given authority to do so.
“The companies, Wits Health Consortium and Basotho International Consultancy are not authorised to undertake the said duties of testing people for the two diseases,” the association said in an interview on Tuesday this week. “We are currently working towards ensuring that people start receiving compensation through the Tshiamiso Trust. People should know that these companies came into the country illegally and therefore are not allowed to perform any testing duties.
“We are working together with the government of Lesotho to ensure that these companies are dealt with accordingly,” the association’s treasurer, ’Mamohlomi Letlailana said. The companies, she said are working together with the mines which lost the case in order to confuse people as well as give a few of them access to the funds.
“The mines in question are not happy that they lost the case and now they have to pay people so they are conniving with these two companies to intentionally limit the number of people who are eligible for compensation so that they do not get to spend all the money that has been allocated,” Mrs Letlailana added.
The two companies began testing the ex-miners in March and reports show that out of 16 000, tested, only 20 are eligible for compensation. These statistics, Letlailana said, are shocking considering that many Basotho ex-miners are ill while thousands others have since died due to the two respiratory conditions.
“Global Med Health Services has been in Lesotho since July 23 and so far, 127 people have been found to have succumbed to silicosis while 417 were discovered to have contracted TB while working at the mines. Testing will continue until all the ex-miners who are still alive are able to undergo the tests to establish whether or not they qualify,” she said.
The former miners are therefore urged to report at the TEBA Maseru office for testing. Those that have to travel more than 90 kilometers to Maseru are advised to remain in their respective villages as testing will be made available to them. For generations, Basotho have been migrating to the neighbouring South Africa to work in the diamond, gold and platinum mines.
But a shift towards less labour intensive forms of mining, higher production costs, the global economic meltdown and the strength of the South African rand against the US dollar have resulted in many migrant mine workers being retrenched in recent years.
From a peak of about 125 000 Basotho men working in the SA mines in the late 1980s, only 35 000 were still employed in the sector by 2010 according to reports from TEBA. The loss of remittances from mine workers has had a major impact on the economy of Lesotho.