Going the extra mile pays off for miners' stranded beneficiaries

Moises Uamusse says subsisting families  must be dealt with 'softly'. (Mandi Smallhorne)

Moises Uamusse says subsisting families must be dealt with 'softly'. (Mandi Smallhorne)

It is strange to stand on the russet soil of a neighbouring country, surrounded by the acid green of new seedlings, and hear the name "Fidentia" spoken as if it is a curse.

"I used to get pension money for my husband, who died in 2004," says Westa Dlamini. "Then, that money was reported stolen in the Fidentia case. We were told there was other money in the provident fund and we must check by the end of June, but I've lost hope."

Dlamini is not the only widow in Swaziland to curse J Arthur Brown's company. But the poverty that affects the people here does not all come down to Fidentia's woes, not by a long chalk.

Almost everyone in this green rural valley in the Nkwene region of Swaziland is the widow or orphan of a mineworker or a former mineworker, says Vama Jele of the Swazi­land Migrant and Mineworkers' Asso­ciation (Swammia).

Jele is the treasurer of the Southern African Mineworkers' Association (Sama), a relatively new organisation that draws together regional organisations such as Swammia, and almost everyone he greets has a tale to tell of battling to get benefits.  

Like Sibongile Sibandze, who walks over to us, with mud covering her hands from weeding the large vegetable garden alongside the Mkhandva River, which provides basic nutrition for this poor community in the form of crisp spinach, cabbages and bright orange carrots.

Like many of the other women here, Sibandze has battled to get the benefits she is entitled to since her husband died.

"I have been to Johannesburg four times making claims. And I was told to go and fix one item after another, and then I was told, no, there is one slight thing, you must go back home and fix it – until I didn't have any money to cover the cost of travelling."

Sibandze sold her goats to pay for the expenses she incurred on this quest. Two of her children have left school owing to lack of funds. Dlamini's daughter is at a tertiary institution but will have to leave because her mother can't pay the fees.

Intergenerational impact
And so what Jaine Roberts, the director of research at Rhodes University, calls an "administrative justice issue which has existed for decades" reaches out to affect a younger generation, adding to the burden this small country bears thanks to its 100-year-long engagement with mining in South Africa.

"When the ex-mineworkers went to work in South Africa," says Lufto Dlamini, the minister of labour and social security in Swaziland, "they were young, healthy and fit, economically active. And what the South African mines succeeded in doing is turning that young, fit and healthy Swazi into an invalid – disabled, terminally ill, very poor and uncared for.

"As a government, we have to contend with this. And not only that, the majority of them have contagious things like TB [tuberculosis] which unknowingly is spreading throughout families."

Like the Ziyane family, living at a homestead not far from Manzini, Sicelo Ziyane is a gentle, dignified man of 46 who worked underground for many years. He suffered a back injury that left him with chronic backache. He walks with the aid of a stick, beautifully bound with telephone wire.

He was sent home, he says, when doctors diagnosed him with TB. His frustration is that he is due a pension payout lump sum of more than R130 000, which he is battling to access.

"I left South Africa in 2011," he says. "They say, the money will get to your account. But I didn't find it, not until today.

"The man told me to phone Teba [The Employment Bureau of Africa, a mining recruitment company]. When I phone, they ask, what is your name? Then they just leave me hanging."

This story, Jele says as he photographs Ziyane's documents with his cellphone, is typical. The money is there but people face bureaucratic obstacles to get it.

Meanwhile, a man who is on medication and will thrive only if he gets sufficient nutrition will suffer. As will his family. Ziyane also has children who have been forced to leave school.

"It puts strain on the medical and social resources in Swaziland," says Dlamini. "Bear in mind that the monies the ex-mineworkers or their families are trying to get hold of are not hand-outs; they are earned entitlements."

Culture clash
One of the major obstacles is a clash of culture between rich and poor, rural and urban, literate and illiterate.

"This issue forces widows to travel from Mozambique to South Africa," says Moises Uamusse, the president of the Association of Mozambican Mineworkers, which represents his country on Sama.

"When they get to South Africa, they don't know the language, they don't know where they should go, they don't know how long they will have to stay and they don't know what is happening to their children."

For those who try to access benefits from their home country, it can be just as confusing.

Patricia Dlamini's husband worked at the Randfontein mine for nine years and died in a car accident in 2004. After initially getting a pension, in January 2007, "they told us the money is lost", she says, "and they [the Living Hands Umbrella Trust, the curators in the Fidentia case] didn't know why". Since then, Dlamini has been trying to get hold of the money she believes is owed to her.

But to fax documents in her town of Nhlangano costs R20 a page.

For each of her three children, she must fax seven pages, which amounts to R420, and "they never fax back to confirm they received them". At R15 a minute, a phone call can cost more than R80.

This adds up to an impossible amount of money for a woman who sews shweshwe aprons on an unreliable sewing machine to make enough to buy food. Dlamini also grows her own food, but two plantings this year were washed away by floods.

Mgcini Shongwe, who founded Likhwane Beneficiary Services to assist beneficiaries to get their payouts in Swaziland, points out that, in Swaziland, a mineworker might have three surnames, any of which he may use in South Africa.

If he should die, the pension or provident fund has difficulty understanding that three surnames apply to one person.

And Swazi commissioners of oaths may not be recognised in South Africa, necessitating more cross-border trips at R1 000 and more a time.

"The cost of accessing the benefits is transferred to the beneficiaries in effect," says the Teba managing director, Graham Herbert.

Without a trace
Anything that makes a beneficiary hard to trace adds to the difficulties.

The head of new business at Teba, Kevin Cottrell, says that, since South Africa adopted laws requiring that it reduce its dependency on foreign workers and recruit locally, people in the Southern African Development Community region know that those seeking work on the mines will do whatever they can to present themselves as local, whether that means buying identification documents or local addresses.

"It is one of the reasons that Teba invested in a biometrics system. Teba  now keeps biometric data – fingerprints – on its database."

The beneficiaries may also have moved around, as Uamusse points out. "We have had a civil war, floods and droughts in Mozambique; as a result, people may have moved away."

In Swaziland, culture dictates that, when a man dies, his brother should marry his widow. This can also make it difficult to trace a widow or orphaned children, as they will no longer be at the known address.

No secrets
Widows and orphans beyond South Africa's borders and in the communities within them who send men to the mines are generally ignorant about the benefits due to them, how to access them and about their rights.

Sama's deputy president, Bongiwe Mdluli, is a mineworker's widow. "I was lucky because my husband told me: 'Never cry, just open your eyes.' He told me where to go and what to do if he should die.  

"So I didn't have any problems. And that's why I want to help other widows."

Mdluli had some minor complications because her husband, like many men who spend long months away from home, had sought female companionship near his work, but she receives his full pension.

This is not always the case, says Jele. Sometimes the woman in South Africa has a better grasp of the possible benefits and tries to take them for herself.

"The miners need to tell their wives the truth," says Mdluli. "And we as an association must train them that it's important to tell their families about the benefits they have and not hide things from wives and children."

Msindile Tutu, who works with a group of former mineworkers in the Eastern Cape, says it's just as important that the miners themselves understand what their rights and responsibilities are as they cannot be expected to inform their families if they don't grasp the issues fully themselves.

"There must be clear guidelines from the point of recruitment," says Jele. "When someone is employed to work on the mine, he must know what is happening with his contractual savings and where they are going."

Language barrier
Nearly everyone agrees that communication between companies (provident or pension funds, beneficiary organisations, mining houses and the like) and the beneficiaries (miners and their families) often breaks down because company employees just don't "get" the culture.

"You need to be as soft as possible," says Uamusse. Bringing a rapid-fire, cellphone-and-email, fill-in-these-forms-in-triplicate culture to bear on people who are very poor, live in rural areas, are possibly not fully literate and are often suffering deeply will simply not work.

When Roberts was doing her research in the Eastern Cape, she says, each interview took at least a day, often two.

"This stuff simply can't be done in English. It needs to be done in the home language," Herbert says.

But where there is a will to solve the problem and like-minded people of good intent work together there is a way, as Tabo Shabangu's story shows.

Her husband, Robert Dlamini, died in 1987, leaving her with one child. Custom dictated (much to Shabangu's dismay) that a brother marry her, and she had three more children by him.

Without any reason, the pension from the compensation fund set up in terms of the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act suddenly stopped in 2006 and, for several long years, Shabangu, by then abandoned by her second husband, struggled on.

She and her children made money by chopping firewood and hauling it to the roadside several kilometres away.

By the time Jele met her, he says, she looked ravaged and ill.

He immediately emailed South Africa's department of labour and within nine days an efficient and concerned staffer had seen to it that a lump sum of back pay was deposited into her account, and the pension resumed.

Today Shabangu looks like a different person, relaxed and happy as she contemplates building some more rooms on to her tiny house.

Someone went the extra mile, and it worked.

"We need to rethink how mining houses relate to communities and migrant countries," says Neville Gabriel, who heads the Southern African Trust. And that applies to all of the role players, from government departments to provident funds.

There has been some attempt to discuss initiatives that will smooth out some problems, such as the creation of bilateral agreements between labour-producing countries such as Mozambique, Swaziland, Lesotho, Botswana and Angola to enable them to offer appropriate health services for ex-miners at home, or to create continuity of care for migrant workers through streamlining the way medical records are kept.

But these are policy issues.

As long as mineworkers and their beneficiaries are treated as "second-class citizens", as Roberts phrases it, as long as functionaries within the various companies involved don't understand the need to make an effort to bridge the gulfs of language, culture, literacy and technology, as long as those holding the money due to the beneficiaries do not see a need to expend money and time to reach and communicate with beneficiaries, the problems described by Patricia and Westa Dlamini, Sibongile Sibandze and Sicelo Ziyande will persist.

And that is about changing mindsets, which is harder than changing policy.

Teba's executive director, James Motlatsi, believes the culture of not caring for anyone except "me" is rife at all levels of our society.

"It will be very difficult to change and will require sturdy leadership," says Herbert.

Tide of workers compounds problems

Some idea of the scale of migrants – and hence the scale of the problem of access to benefits – is given by recruitment company Teba's numbers. Each year, the company recruits 312 000 mineworkers (not all of them new to the industry). Of these, 71000 are foreigners, 93 000 are locals and 148000 are South African migrants, mainly from the Eastern Cape.

Rhodes University researcher Jaine Roberts says that one recruiter she spoke to in Coffee Bay processed more than twomillion men between 1970 and 1990.

The impact on communities is enormous. A survey by the Southern African Migration Project showed, for instance, that 83% of Lesotho's citizens have parents and 51% have grandparents who have worked in South Africa.

But the foreign numbers are dwindling as the government's "recruit local" policy takes effect.

Nevertheless, as Swaziland Labour Minister Lufto Dlamini says, there are still many thousands of Swazis in the mines and the kingdom will continue to inherit the problems, which is why he is so keen to find a resolution.

Corporate response

The Chamber of Mines was unavailable for comment, so we approached two major mining houses.

Jongisa Klaas, the head of investor relations at African Rainbow Minerals, said the company would prefer not to comment on anything that was not specific to it.

Anglo American said it was difficult to come up with a consolidated group position at short notice as it involved all four of its business units, which had vastly different dynamics.

This feature was produced with the assistance of the Southern Africa Trust



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