The mining industry has been and continues to be among the most hazardous trades in the world. Increasing demand for safety in mining remains the highest.
While injuries and deaths due to accidents may present the greatest immediate health hazards, pneumoconiosis, (caused by the inhalation of dust), remains the major long term occupational hazard for mine workers.
The damages may take effect even long after retirement. To date, getting compensation for occupational hazards at mines remains a struggle for workers and their families.
With the discovery of gold in South Africa in the 19th century came the endless opportunities of employment across the region. Not only was there a need to employ mineworkers, but an “expressed” requirement to hire a young workforce from the former homelands of apartheid South Africa.
This came after the importation of cheap migrant labour from countries such as Malawi and Botswana on a large scale.
For those Batswana working in the South African mines and their loved ones compensation has been especially difficult to access.
A study shows that in 1994 there were at least 304 former gold miners living in Thamaga many of whom had suffered lung disease as a result of working in the SA mines. Very few of them had received compensation, the Murray, J. Davies, T & Rees, D. J Public Health Poll (2011) says.
By 1999, of all 2 530 miners who came to autopsy 446 cases (19 percent) had occupational lung disease not identified and submitted for compensation in life, or more severe disease than had been compensated in life, the study says. Only 31 (7 percent) of the 446 of families had received benefits by April 2001.
“In 2008, 205 former miners, Eastern Cape, South Africa – 175/205 (85 percent) reported not receiving the statutory medical examination when leaving the mine (which is partly to identify compensable disease).
Of these “203/205 (99 percent) did not know of the Compensation Act and its benefits,” the study says.
This lack of knowledge resulted in most of these migrant mineworkers who spent years building up the South African economy and working under unhealthy conditions not claiming their social security benefits nor compensation related to occupational diseases or illness, says Botswana Labour Migrants Association (BoLAMA).
In instances where they have attempted to claim, BoLAMA says, such claims have not been paid out or have taken long periods to process.
“Many of the miners do not live long immediately after they return home from the mines,” the association says.
BoLAMA says their widows are confronted with challenges in accessing social security and compensation benefits on behalf of their spouses due to low literacy levels, which in most instances disqualifies them from meeting administrative requirements.
“Their lack of information and understanding about institutions and funds where claims are disbursed, information on eligibility, procedures and guidelines for making claims further exacerbates the problem.”
Thina Tshilwane (58) from Thamaga is one of the women whose husband passed on due to health complications caused by mining in SA.
Pretorius Tshilwane died from tuberculosis after working at the East Driefontein mines for 25 years. He did not receive any support to help bury her husband nor any compensation for her loss.
“As a mother of nine I was faced with multiple challenges of fending for my children since I was not earning much,” she says. The widow says she has not received aid from any organisation including the government of Botswana.
“I do not know of any organisation where I can be assisted to make any claims in relation to the passing of my husband,” she says.
Motala Boikwadi (65), another mother of nine shares a similar story. She lost her husband Rankanasela due to silicosis disease. Her husband had worked in the South African mines for over 30 years and she had no idea what her husband was earning at the time of his employment. Her husband had told her that he was working as a “machine boy”.
“After the death of my husband the only money I received as compensation and burial benefits was the sum of R42 000,” she says. With the money she was able to bury her husband and keep the rest for her family.
Boikwadi believes her lack of literacy has made her vulnerable. She feels she may have been cheated as she is not aware of the benefits due to her. She says The Employment Bureau of Africa (TEBA) has long collected all her deceased husband’s documents but she has not heard from them since.
Like Tshilwane, Boikwadi has not received any assistance from the government of Botswana. Her hopes now are on BoLAMA to assist with any beneficial claims due to her and her family.
BoLAMA will tomorrow and Tuesday April host the Regional Widows’ Forum in the Mining Industry at Woodlane Hotel, Riverwalk.
The aim is to create an opportunity for stakeholders to review the mechanisms put in place to address some of the challenges experienced by widows of ex-mineworkers in accessing their unclaimed social security benefits.
The forum will be addressed by among others, Ditshwanelo Director Alice Mogwe, Simon Dikhudu (BoLAMA Chairperson), Kitso Phiri (Project Coordinator, BoLAMA), and Vama Jele, Treasurer for Southern Africa Miners Association.