SA mining companies owe ex-miners over R4 billion

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  • Around 24 000 of the miners are in Botswana
  • New litigation to force mining companies to payout claims

TSHIAMO TABANE

Ex-miners from Botswana and other Southern African countries- who worked in apartheid South Africa have registered a new litigation case in their bid to sue at least 32 companies in that country they accuse of deliberately delaying payments of claims due to them.
In a class action lawsuit which is expected to be heard this month, according to Ditshwanelo, over 1.2 million former mine workers from South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi have approached the South African Supreme Court of Appeal seeking it to order the mining companies to pay out the claims.
Ditshwanelo, a Botswana-based human rights organization which has been assisting locally based ex-miners to access their claims, confirmed at a forum for regional ex-miners and ex-miners widows last week that around 24 000 Botswana ex-miners who worked in South African mines are part of over 1.2 million miners who are suing the mining companies. Ditshwanelo, which is part of organizations that lobbied for the lawsuit has indicated the litigation case registered as “Bongani Nkala and others versus Harmony Gold others” is expected to bring closure in the long fight for billions of monies owed to ex-miners. The case is also expected to clarify the transmissibility of right to claim of ex-miners’ dependents in situations where the former miner have died. South African mining companies are reportedly claiming that no claims can be released for ex-miners who have passed on regardless of whether their death is related to mine injuries or occupational disease.
Head of South African Occupational Health Department and Compensation Commissioner, Barry Kistnasamy, has indicated that a significant number of South African mine workers died from occupational diseases and injuries which occurred at mines died while still waiting for their claims and added that while the law is not clear on transmissibility of rights, it would be fair for claims to be disbursed to ex-miner wives or dependants. He stated that the majority of ex-miners who generated a wealth for South African mining companies have been neglected and while others have died due to occupational diseases and mine related injuries, the majority of them are still facing the challenge of a deadly cocktail of HIV/AIDS, silicosis and tuberculosis. According to figures from the department, it has been confirmed that out of a total of 1 249 533 South African ex-miners from various South African countries; 171, 614 of them are suffering from occupational diseases. 33, 045 are suffering from silicosis, a lung cancer caused by dust they inhaled in gold mines while 108, 883 have been diagnosed with tuberculosis linked to lung infections caused by the dust. The figures further show that 13, 688 have asbestos related diseases, while 15, 998 have been diagnosed with obstructive airways disease and pneumonoconisis.
An ex-miner from Botswana, Ophaketse Mmokele, who was taken back to Botswana after diagnosed with silicosis indicated that after working in the South African mines between 1980 and 2002 he has never received any benefit or compensation. Ex-miners from Zimbabwe Lungelwe Mkwananzi who worked at South African between 1976 and 1979, stated that in his country, the majority of ex-miners have passed on and their dependants are struggling to access their claims because the families do not have the information being asked for, which the mining companies have anyway. “I am calling upon our governments to come up with policy that would force the companies to release database with the names of the ex-miners with claims so that families can see if their breadwinners qualify for claim,” said Mkwananzi. He said mining companies were just delaying payment of claims so that the ex-miners can die. “They also benefit from the funds which are accruing interest,” said the miner. He said it is important for SADC to also intervene and assist to bring the issue to closure. “We have been waiting for the claims for 20 years,” he said. Another ex-miner from Malawi John Dick who worked at the mines between 1977 and 1980 said they have been fighting for access to claims for injured and ill ex-mine workers for more than 20 years.

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