It’s a long walk to money for ex-miners in the region

By Mpho Tebele

Gaborone – Working at the South African mines in the 1900s was something that should have improved the lives of families of former mine workers from the region. But now they have to take a long walk to cope with making claims for money owed to them.

In fact, observers are of the view that working at the mines should have been a ticket to riches for a number of households in Southern Africa. But that ticket to riches has still not reached the extent where former miners and their relatives are enjoying the fruits of their voyage to the South African mines in the 1900s.

As Swaziland Migrant Mineworkers Association (SWAMMIWA) executive secretary Vama Jele noted recently in the media, former miners spent more money making claims for money owed to them than they eventually get in the end process.

His sentiments were shared by Botswana Human Rights watchdog Ditshwanelo and the Botswana Labour Migrants Association (BoLAMA) which have grouped together other former miners and widows.

The two organisations believe that ex-miners had been left out in the cold.

Jele is quoted as saying that miners often spent more making the claim than they would receive at the end of the process.

He reportedly made this submission when Southern African organisations supporting mine workers gathered to seek ways to escalate efforts to support the disbursement of billions of rands to former miners in the region.

The organisations gathered to review the plight of ex-miners in Southern Africa with the launch of a documentary highlighting their current challenges and a panel discussion with key regional stakeholders on finding a way forward.

Ditshwanelo, which is also helping the ex-miners and their families said they have been working with ex-miners, their widows and dependents children of the Silicosis Gold Mining Compensation Project, which began in 2012.

Ditshwanelo director Alice Mogwe revealed recently at a workshop that there has been much research conducted, which has shown that miners who migrated to South Africa to work in the mines were classified as labour migrants.

She added that it has been shown in a number of studies that migration has been beneficial to the hosting state, especially economically, for example through use of cheap labour, development of infrastructure and others.

Consequently, Mogwe noted, the South African mining industry benefited immensely with about 60% of its labour force at some point being sourced from neighbouring countries such as Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

She said it was common practice that upon the termination of their employment, ex-miners returned home with either a lump sum of money or at times empty-handed but with an understanding that their accrued employment benefits would be given to them at some time in the future.

BoLAMA coordinator Mosiami Moalifi is quoted as saying that widows feel ignored by both Botswana and South Africa, even though their husbands toiled to enrich the two countries, while unwittingly becoming ill from poor working environments.

Moalifi said a recent study conducted in some villages in Botswana shows that most widows were not given their husband’s compensation and employment benefits.

She said some mine workers were retrenched because they were inflicted by illnesses, some were injured at the workplace making them unproductive and some even lost their lives and none of them received any compensation from neither the mines nor the government.

Moalifi said all widows interviewed said they have not received any form of assistance from both the South African and Botswana governments.

“Since most ex-mine workers and widows are illiterate, this makes them not to query about their benefits. They are ignorant of the law to enquire about their rights due to illiteracy,” she said.

She said most widows in Botswana mentioned that The Employment Bureau of Africa (TEBA) (which recruited the former miners) did not do enough in helping them more so that the office staffs lack capacity training.

“Office staff at TEBA office are not Batswana, so this poses a communication challenge on widows during consultation,” she added.

Deputy Minister of Mineral Resources in South Africa Godfrey Oliphant is quoted as saying recently that significant progress had been made during the last four years in order to support former miners.

This included developing a database of current and former miners of which there was already 700 000 miners.

In addition, government was promoting medical examinations with clinics for miners to be examined every two years.

“You have an opportunity here for the state to pay for your medical examination,” said the minister.

While there were permanent clinics in Mthatha, in the Eastern Cape and Carltonvillle in the North West, there are also plans for a mobile clinic to move around the country and provide such services.

Minister Oliphant reportedly added that there were plans to have such clinics in Lesotho, Swaziland, Botswana, Zambia and Mozambique with a number of these clinics already open to assisting ex-miners.

May 2017
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