Redress eludes miners’ widows

As Tshiamiso Trust sets hard conditions

  • MATHATISI SEBUSI

MASERU – A lot of noise has been made about South African mining companies finally paying long overdue compensation to mineworkers across Southern Africa for contracting silicosis while working underground. Sadly, widows and orphans of Basotho former mineworkers are being denied their due recompense.Public Eye can reveal that to date M130.5 million has been paid out to 1 879 surviving Basotho ex-mineworkers through the South African Tshiamiso Trust.However, surviving widows and orphaned children of those mineworkers who have since died are facing impediments in accessing the compensation.

Among the impediments is, for instance, the fact that the South African trust fund requires beneficiaries to provide the deceased’s South African proof of residence and death certificates issued in South Africa claiming that these are needed since the deceased were granted South African citizenship while they were working in the mines.Tshiamiso was founded in February 2020 in terms of a settlement agreement concluded between six mining companies, some of their affiliates, the claimants’ representatives, and the claimants’ attorneys.

Its mandate is to pay compensation to an estimated 500 000 ex-gold miners across southern Africa including Lesotho, eSwatini, Botswana and Mozambique, which served as pools of labour for the South African gold mines.The settlement reached in the Johannesburg High Court (South Africa) in 2016 covers employees who worked on the cited mines for a period of two years or more between March 12, 1965 and December 10, 2019 and who contracted silicosis or TB due to their work. Many of these compensable claims, about 28.4 percent, were from Mozambique, Lesotho, eSwatini, Botswana and elsewhere in Southern Africa, a large proportion of which have been longstanding.

A myriad of diverse systemic barriers persists, especially for workers and their families outside South Africa. Calculating predicted burden of occupational lung disease compared to claims eligible for compensation paid suggests a major shortfall in filing claims in addition to the large burden of still unpaid claims. According to Lesotho Ex Miners Association Coordinator Rantšo Mantsi, Basotho started receiving their compensation in December 2020 and to date, around 1 879 surviving ex-miners have received amounts totaling up to M130.5 million. Mantsi, however, said the payment process has been rather slow due to “unreasonable” demands for documents from orphans and widows of beneficiaries.

He said the beneficiaries of deceased ex-miners who were granted South African citizenship while working in the mines are obliged to submit South African death certificates and proof of residence for the deceased. Mantsi said this has become an obstacle as widows and orphans do not have such documents as their deceased family members left South Africa many years ago following their retrenchment and retirement for others. “This is a challenge indeed. These orphans and widows might lose their money because of lack of these needed documents. The challenge is, the said beneficiaries left South Africa a long time ago and they did not even have addresses at the time they came back to Lesotho as they were living in mine hostels while others were renting shacks at townships. “The issue of death certificates (issued in South Africa) is also complicated as the deceased died here in Lesotho,” Mantsi said.

Efforts to get a comment from Tshiamiso Trust were futile until the paper went to print. ’Mamotlatsi Bitso, aged 59, is one of the widows that are struggling to get compensation on behalf of her deceased husband as she could not present a South African issued death certificate and proof of residence of her deceased husband. Bitso lives at Ha Makoae, Peka, and is raising seven children single-handedly. She said during 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 African but only registered the death in Lesotho.

She said she is currently required to register his husband’s death in South Africa and present his then proof of residence in order to get compensated. She explained that her husband was working in a gold mine in Welkom and 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 told Public Eye that this year she did not harvest anything. She said she was told that the death certificate will take around six months to a year to be issued. Her worry is that she has neither transport to go the South Africa to apply for the death certificate nor money to feed her family while waiting for the compensation.

She also does not have any proof of residence as her deceased husband was staying in the mine’s hostels. “I have all Lesotho documents that are needed when one lodges a claim. However, when I arrived at Tshiamiso, the system reflected that my husband was using a South African ID and identified him as alive. This happened because I only reported his death in Lesotho. “Now I have to apply for the death certificate that will take almost a year to be issued, and that is, if I get money to go to South Africa. I don’t even have mealie-meal as we speak,” Bitso said. Ex-miners who contracted silicosis or work-related TB between 1965 and 2019 qualify. The claimants should have a certificate from the government’s Medical Bureau for Occupational Diseases.

In a previous interview with this publication, chairperson of Tshiamiso Trust, May Hermanus, said the beneficiaries are individuals who are suffering from 2nd degree silicosis and have already received certificates from the government’s Medical Bureau for Occupational Diseases. Hermanus noted that there are 10 classes of claimants who, once properly certified, may be potentially eligible for compensation, adding that a person could lodge a claim for compensation if they are current or former mineworker who worked for a qualifying mine at any time between March 12, 1965, and December 10 2019, contracted silicosis or work-related TB; or are dependents (wife, partner or child) of such gold mineworkers who have passed away.

He said the classes are Silicosis Class 1;  an early stage of silicosis (lung function impairment of up to 10 percent)  that will be compensated with  M70 000, Silicosis Class 2 will be compensated with  M150 000,  Silicosis Class 3 with M250 000, Silicosis Class 4 with defined special aggravated medical condition will be compensated with up to M500 000 and dependents of a deceased eligible silicosis claimant who died between March 12, 1965, and December 10, 2019, will get M100 000, where silicosis is deemed to be the primary cause of death. Hermanus further pointed out that first degree tuberculosis claimant must have worked underground at a qualifying mine for two years and have been diagnosed with first degree tuberculosis within a year of working at least one shift at a qualifying mine to get a compensation of M50 000. “Historical tuberculosis in absence of medical report determining degree of tuberculosis; an eligible claimant must have worked at a qualifying mine for two years between March 12, 1965; and February 28, 1994, have been issued with a tuberculosis certificate (without indicating degree of tuberculosis) within a year of working at least one shift at a qualifying mine to get compensation of M10 000.

“Dependents of a deceased eligible tuberculosis claimant where the deceased worked underground at a qualifying mine for two years; and the deceased died within a year of working at least one shift at a qualifying mine; and tuberculosis was the primary cause of the deceased’s death will be compensated with M100 000,” she said. She added that from the third year of the life of the trust, compensation levels will be adjusted for inflation in line with the Consumer Price Index to ensure that the value of the compensation amounts is not eroded by inflation. According to a June 2018 article by B Kistnasamy titled ‘Tackling injustices of occupational lung disease acquired in South African mines: recent developments and ongoing challenges’ despite progress made, analysis reveals ongoing complex barriers and illustrates that the considerable underfunding of the systems required for sustained prevention and social protection (including compensation) needs urgent attention.

With class action suits in the process of settlement, the globalized mining sector is now beginning to be held accountable. A critical rights-based approach underlines the importance of ongoing concerted action by all. Tshiamiso is expected to be functional for at least the next 12 years, during which time potentially eligible claimants will be able to submit claims. The Trust’s mandate is to process and compensate an estimated 500 000 former gold mine workers who suffer from or died from TB and silicosis, and their beneficiaries By the end of 2017, 111 166 miners had received compensation, of which 55 864 were for permanent lung impairment, and another 52 473 for tuberculosis. However, 107 714 compensable claims remained unpaid.

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