Ex-mineworkers in Cape Town are cautiously optimistic about getting monies owed to them by mining companies.
Ex-mineworkers, widows and families of those who have since passed away queued outside the Isivivana Hall on Monday to check whether there is unpaid money owed to them. Most of those who spoke to Elitsha were not hopeful as they have been searching for provident, pension or Unemployment Insurance funds and compensation for occupational lung disease among others for many years, with little success. The meeting was organised by the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) and they brought fund administrators like Old Mutual, Momentum and Alexander Forbes to trace claimants. According to the Chief of Staff at the Department of Mineral Resources, Solomon Rasmeni, the program started in 2012 as a way of supporting ex-mineworkers.
62-year-old wheelchair bound, Mzimkhulu Zangqa, started working for Geduld goldmine in Odendaalrus in the Free State. “I worked there for 10 years and the working conditions were poor. The salaries were low and the living conditions on the hostels was slave-like, more than 20 men per unit,” he said. Zangqa, like millions of ex-mineworkers got the job through the grandfather of today’s labour brokers, Teba.
“I then left Geduld and went to work in Carletonville for 12 years. I stopped working in mines in 1985 and came looking for a job in Cape Town,” said Zangqa. He never got his provident fund money or his unemployed insurance. He was involved in a car accident which led to his right leg being amputated. “By the time I tried to claim for my UIF I was told it was too late. I have been attending ex-mineworkers meetings in Philippi for 3 years now,” he said.
“Only the Department of Labour has been able to pick up my name and details. All the other investment companies systems did not. Its going to be a bleak Christmas for me and my family,” he said.
According to Rasmeni they have been to all provinces helping ex-mineworkers claim what is due to them. “There are investment companies who have sustained their institutions with money that belongs to ex-mineworkers. We are pushing for them to pay the money owed to the workers. The Financial Services Board was appointed to supervise the process of unclaimed benefits. Currently the UIF is the most paid-out claim,” he said.
Rasmeni stated that more than 80,000 claims on occupational health and safety have already been paid. Neliswa Bhani is not one of those lucky claimants. Her husband died in 1997 due to respiratory problems, according to Bhani, and last worked for Anglo Ashanti’s Western Deep Levels in Carletonville. “He had TB and we are sure he died from it,” said the mother of four. “We wish that we can get to the bottom of this and get what is due to us. We want money to raise our children,” she said.
“The biggest challenge that we are facing is that we do not have enough doctors who are specialists who can tell whether the person died from TB linked to silicosis or TB that is linked to HIV and Aids,” said Rasmeni. The other problem is one of medical check ups. “Mineworkers are supposed to undergo medical examination every two years but because black mineworkers were discriminated against by the apartheid government, we were only able to do that after 1993,” he said.
Some of the unpaid benefits date as far back as the 1970s and the FSB, now the Financial Sector Conduct Authority (FSCA), was mandated to oversee the process of finding the rightful beneficiaries for unclaimed benefits. It is a bureaucratic process to verify identity and employment histories using old payslips, Chamber of Mines industry numbers, even old dompasses, provident and pension fund letters, old Teba or mining company cards.
Dale McKinley’s National Treasury and the financial services sector: Whose interests are really being served? highlights the failings of the FSCA in fulfilling this mandate, particularly its reluctance to investigate the cancellation of the registrations of thousands of pension and provident funds. The failed Constitutional Court bid by ex-Deputy Registrar of Pension Funds Rosemary Hunter to have the cancellations thoroughly reviewed, and National Treasury’s warm reception of the ruling, are evidence of an institutional disregard for the assets of the poor.
Hunter’s battle exposed Alexander Forbes, one of the fund administrators partnering with the DMR, for the “secret profits” it creamed off of pension funds it criminally held on to.
Rasmeni said that the DMR offers successful claimants help in setting up cooperatives so that they can identify opportunities for economic gains.