Miners’ exploitation: A legacy of unfulfilled promises

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Swapo's Ida Hoffmann, one of the Namibian parliamentarians at the SADC-PF advocacy gathering in Johannesburg.

 

Johannesburg

Billions of rand meant to compensate former migrant workers from Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Lesotho, Mozambique and Malawi who toiled in South African gold, coal and diamond mines remain unclaimed because discrimination laws still prevail against blacks.

The Living Hands Umbrella Trust in South Africa has N$1.2 billion while the Mineworkers Provident Fund has at least N$3.6 billion that remain unclaimed by former African migrant workers, according to an organisation that advocates for conducive labour migration policies.

Tens of thousands of workers from several African countries such as Namibia migrated to South Africa in the 1920s to the late 80s and worked in various mines in South Africa.

Many of these former miners – the majority of whom are now deceased or very old  – were and still are ignorant of the fact that laws that existed long before Nelson Mandela was released from detention, enabled them to claim compensation for occupational injuries and ills such as silicosis that continues to kill many miners that worked for a pittance deep in the mines.

These compensatory laws are exploitive and discriminatory in nature as they seem to favour mostly whites or their families to claim such compensation at the expense of former migrant black miners or their families, New Era was informed at a SADC-PF advocacy gathering being attended by parliamentarians from Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Lesotho, Swaziland and the host nation South Africa.

Dr Esau Chiviya the SADC-PF secretary general and senior SADC-PF MPs officiated at the symposium that addresses criminalisation and stigmatisation disencentives to the realisation of fundamental human rights.  The conference started in Johannesburg on Tuesday and ends tomorrow.

Even if the former migrant mineworkers from these southern African countries or their families had known about the billions meant for compensation, their claims would not be successful because the claimant should provide proof of employment, mention the mine, the dates of employment – details that are rarely available because such miners worked in South Africa several decades ago.

Vama Jele the secretary general of the Swaziland Migrant Mineworkers Association (SWAMMIWA) stirred a hornet’s nest when he gave a moving presentation regarding migrant workers who go to their families to die after they have contracted HIV/AIDS or silicosis.

He also spoke about existing South African legislation that would in theory pay out compensation to the former migrant workers from Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Lesotho, Mozambique and Malawi – such as the Occupation Disease and Mine Works Act of 1973.

The other legislation mentioned was the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Disease Act (COIDA). “It covers all those people who worked here if they can be traced and they have all the relevant documentation,” Jele told New Era on the sidelines of the ongoing SADC-PF meeting.

In a rare case settled in 2014 a group of 321 former migrant workers from Swaziland were paid a collective N$11 million in compensation, said Jele whose organisation represents the interests of migrant workers from Swaziland and addresses their occupational health issues.

ANC MP Siphosezwe Masango implored SADC-PF parliamentarians to advocate for laws that would compel South African mines to pay compensation to the families of migrant miners that died as a result of occupational disease from mines in his country, saying these miners made a huge economic contribution to the country’s mining sector and its economic growth.

Masango, who lamented the discriminatory nature of the existing compensation funds and who spoke out passionately about the need for all the migrant workers or their families to be compensated, chairs the portfolio committee on international relations and cooperation.

On Tuesday RDP parliamentarian Agnes Limbo from Namibia wanted to know why Jele did not mention the miners recruited through the then South West African Native Labour Association (Swanla) that was also called Witwatersrand Native Labour Association that went by the acronym (Wenela) to which Jele replied that his information only covered Botswana, Swaziland, Lesotho and South Africa.

SADC-PF felt they should call for legislation that would cover a raft of workman’s compensation funds existing in South Africa to pay the former migrant workers from other African countries.

Sikhumbuzo Apton Ndlovu a member of the House of Assembly in the Kingdom of Swaziland had asked what was delaying the compensation claims concerning former Swaziland mineworkers that had worked in South African mines “because the records are there”.

Other Namibian parliamentarians at the conference are Ida Hoffmann (Swapo), Sebastian Karupu (Swapo) and Ignatius Shixwameni (APP). Delegates from the AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA) are also in attendance at the symposium that also speaks about sexual reproductive health rights.

 

 

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