Ex-miners get Golden handshake

SHARE   |   Tuesday, 15 May 2018   |   By Thapelo Ndlovu
Ex-miners get Golden handshake

       SA mining giants to pay R5 billion to Tuberculosis and Silicosis affected ex- miners

       Pay-outs range from R10 000 up to R500 000

In the song Stimela, Hugh Masekela laments about the rough life of mine workers that came from all the hinterland of Southern Africa; from Malawi, from Zimbabwe, from Botswana in their pursuit of Gold in the heart of Johannesburg.

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Had fate spared him a few more months he would probably be trumpeting that contagious smile of his. A historic out of court compensation settlement between the mining giants of South Africa and the Tuberculosis and Silicosis affected ex- miners was reached on May 3, 2018. In fact, the ripple effect of the R5 billion deal has impregnated thousands of poor homesteads in South Africa and beyond borders with delirious hope. The mining giants reportedly involved in the agreement are Anglo American SA, African Rainbow Minerals, Gold Fields, Harmony, Sibanye-Still Waters, Pan African Resources, and Anglo Gold Ashanti.

Richard Spoor attorneys represented the ex-miners in this landmark class action suit. Supporting the action from Botswana were The Centre for Human Rights in Botswana-Ditshwanelo and its offspring, Botswana Labour Migrant Workers Association (BoLAMA) who helped with mobilising and gathering evidence in Botswana. Both have since released statements celebrating the victory.

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Beaten by disease

Prior to this settlement, many of the families who had their husbands, fathers and brothers plying their trade in several South African gold mines since the 1960s had nothing to show for it; and in some cases, not even the bodies of their loved ones.  Many families were abruptly left without their bread winners, who were devoured by the mining shafts and the lethal dust emanating from the dynamite blasts. Others walked out of the work gates, beaten by the disease, arriving home half–skeletal; only to succumb to the devastating tuberculosis or Silicosis.

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“Most of us emerged from the shafts late in the evenings, coinciding with the dust and smoke from the dynamite blasts,” remembers a wheel chair bound Ramotswa survivor, Oageng Morekwa, who only retired in 2011. The 65-year-old started working in the mines around 1978. He only discovered he had Tuberculosis a month ago, and doctors confirmed it has been ravaging him inside all along.

“There was too much of negligence and safety was not a priority, I was even admitted to a hospital for a week at one point but came out with an unidentified ailment,” he says. 

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This observation is shared by other ex -miners. Simon Upe Dikhudu is the chairman of Botswana Labour Migrant Association (BoLAMA). BoLAMA is a mentee of Ditshwanelo and a part of a regional movement seeking justice from the mining giants in South Africa.

With more than 4000 members, BOLAMA conducted a trace and tracking project in which they dug out 3200 affected ex miners or their families from which 2500 have since been part of the class litigation. This is corroborated by the organisation’s coordinator, Kitso Phiri.“Some of the 3000 from the tracking and tracing are going to claim from the class suit and as BoLAMA, we want to be in the fore front in rolling out this process at national and regional level,” he says. 

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Phiri was present when the settlement was announced and confirms through a BoLAMA statement the categorisation of the pay-outs. The pay-outs range from R10 000 up to R500 000 in different classifications and mostly depending on the degree of ailment and length of employment.

Activism

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Dikhudu suffers from a Kidney failure and as a result is subjected to a periodic and regular Dialysis process. The 64-year-old gave his youthful years to the mines, having started in 1973. In 1999 he was relieved of his job following his health complications.

“I am weak now but prepared to advocate for the interest of the ex-miners,” he declared as he unbuttoned his shirt to show his Dialysis entry point in his chest. “I am happy that despite my health status I have been involved in this activism and the settlement is ground breaking and a relief from a long running battle.”

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Dikhudu illustrates his narration with a litany of letters and a glint in the eye. One such a letter was from the Botswana Government rejecting his compensation claim as his Tuberculosis was not classified as occupational. It is apparent from his look that the rejection had hit him hard hence he intensified his advocacy through BOLAMA.

“I submitted my application for government compensation in 2004 but only got examined in 2016 when my claim was rejected. Our struggle in the past was made difficult by poor representation from such organisation as TEBA which contracted us to the mines but never responded to our concerns. I pay homage to the human rights lawyer, Richard Spoor who played a key role in mobilising us,” says Dikhudu.

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Dikhudu takes his activism seriously. He profusely talks of human rights and winces to a suggestion that he is his fellow miners’ Mandela. He speaks fondly of a special clinic at Boswelakoko in Molepolole, which he says his organisation was instrumental in setting up.

The clinic attends to cases involving ex miners and reports that reach him indicate an increasing demand for its services. “Clients come from as far as Shakawe and some times we face difficulties of feeding them.”

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Widows and wives

In a hardly audible and breathless voice, the wheel chaired figure of Morekwa paints a silhouette of helplessness as he watches his wife recounting the difficulties that the family was going through. They have three children and 4 grandchildren, all under their care.

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“It has been very difficult since he was condemned to the wheel chair. The medicine itself is overwhelming and that he is on wheel chair needs full care.”

However, unlike Mma Morekwa, others were not so lucky to have a spouse return with all limps intact. Theresina Keakile, the widow of Daniel Keakile only received ‘pieces of my husband,’ and the message that he fell into a shaft. The message arrived on the day she was on labour of their child.

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“It was difficult.”

She never received compensation for the accident itself except R3000 of wages that were due and subsequently a monthly pension which has since risen to P1200 from P120. Although her type of compensation does not fall under any of the current class action packages, which are only concerned with Tuberculosis and Silicosis, Keakile is confident she will be compensated and lays all hope on BoLAMA. 

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The other widow, Sematlho Tatlhegelo vividly recounts her partner’s persistent coughing which was only confirmed as TB on the eve of his demise. “He was always in a bad state of health, coughing relentlessly but never taken seriously”.

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*Ndlovu is an Independent writer  for CommunityFiles

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