Unclaimed funds cast ray of hope

She doesn’t get home until after dark, and then still has to make the dough for the next day’s batch of loaves. She had never worked commercially before her husband died six years ago at a mine in neighbouring South Africa ‘ the main employer of Basotho men ‘ leaving her with nothing but a one-bedroomed house and four children to clothe and feed. But then, by a stroke of luck, she heard that as many as 2,000 former mineworkers’ families were losing out on US $33 million in unclaimed pensions held by the National Union of Mine Workers’ Provident Fund ‘ a potential lifeline for households struggling to cope after the loss of the breadwinner in a country with an unemployment rate of around 65 percent. Armed with the news of the provident fund, “I decided to try my luck [by applying to the fund]. I hope it will pay out soon,” Mohlabi said with a shy smile. The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the South African Chamber of Mines started the fund in 1989 after one of the biggest strikes in South Africa, when black miners downed tools demanding a retirement fund like their white counterparts. Frans Mhlangu, the fund’s principle executive officer, said the families of gold and coal mineworkers who had died after leaving the mines could still be entitled to payouts. “There is somebody poor out there and we have got their money,” he commented. According to Teboho Masoetsa of the Mineworkers’ Development Agency (MDA), the training and job-creation wing of the NUM in Lesotho, “There are many Basotho women who are struggling like Mapoloko, or even worse. We are sure that many of our miners have a share in the money and, as the country office, we have asked for data of former mineworkers in Lesotho who still have money in the fund,” Masoetsa said. He blamed the country’s inheritance laws for some of the unclaimed funds. “In Lesotho, many of the monies, especially those of late miners, were unclaimed either because the rightful beneficiary and the family were in conflict, or the family wanted someone [else] to be the beneficiary while the rightful heir was still alive ‘ so this led to long and tedious court cases that many, especially women, lost interest in fighting,” he explained. Times have been tough for Mapoloko since the death of her husband. She had hoped her eldest son, now 18, would follow his father to the mines, like generations of Basotho before him. But over the last decade South African mines have been shedding jobs as they struggled to remain profitable. In 1989, they employed 127 000 Basotho, now there are only 45 000. “I had to send the eldest of my children to work as a domestic worker in Maseru’s townships, while the other three are still at home in Mafika Lisiu in northern Lesotho,” said Mapoloko. “One farmer in Mafika Lisiu had shown an interest in hiring my 14-year-old son as a herd boy and I hope he will, so that I can only worry about two children.” If her application to claim from the provident fund is successful, she aims to send her 14-year-old, Katleho, back to school. He was forced to quit when he was still in Grade 6 because she couldn’t afford the fees. ‘ IPS.

April 2006
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