Supporting miners' families

Vama Jele, general secretary, Swaziland Migrant Mineworkers Association

Vama Jele, general secretary, Swaziland Migrant Mineworkers Association

Investing in the future sometimes means making claims on the past, as the Swaziland Migrant Mineworkers Association (Swammiwa has realised. Swammiwa was founded in 1993 by migrant mine workers, including Jabulani Mayisela, Elcan Mavimbela, and the late Sonnyboy Dlamini to help mineworkers and their families access benefits earned by Swazi mineworkers (pensions or compensation for injury or illness). 

Vama Jele was elected general secretary in 1997 and again in 2014. “Ever since the formation I have been involved as an active member and architect,” he says. The key to Swammiwa’s success has been partnership: “Involving relevant partners like Southern Africa Trust, governments (of South Africa, Swaziland, Lesotho, Mozambique, Botswana, Malawi), the Financial Services Board, the Mineworkers Provident Fund, Sentinel Retirement Fund, Teba, Rand Mutual Assurance, and researchers, human rights organisations, and development partners.” 

Access to these benefits is life-changing for impoverished families, opening up potential for the future; Swammiwa helps people use that potential to best effect with economic empowerment projects aimed at creating income for the widows, former miners and their families. 

Projects include broiler production, small dairy farming, indigenous chicken farming, goat rearing and polish-manufacturing projects. 

Swammiwa receives support from the International Organisation for Migration and Voluntary Services Overseas, while the Southern Africa Trust supports on advocacy, access to social security benefits, compensations and service delivery.

Jele has high praise for the former Swaziland Minister of Labour and Social Security, Lutfo Dlamini, who played a major role in supporting Swammiwa and resolving mineworker issues. “But the list will never end, as different roles have been played by many people and organisations, including Swaziland Minister of Health and the current Minister of Labour and Social Security, the Honourable Winnie Magagula, who has committed a lot to service delivery.”

The task is never-ending: “We receive about 80 clients per week on issues of unpaid social security benefits, occupational injuries and occupational disease, as well as information seeking,” says Jele. 

The Swammiwa Secretariat is made up of three full-time employees (executive secretary, programmes manager and finance officer) and three national volunteers (project officer: portability of social security benefits and compensations, monitoring and evaluation trainee and communications volunteer and project officer: TB in mines) and two international volunteers (monitoring and evaluation officer and livelihoods manager).

 “Further, we have volunteers at community level and 32 community home-based carers working on active case-finding and treatment adherence, knowledge dissemination on TB prevention, tracing unpaid benefits and home-based caring.”

Seeing cases resolved and people receiving their benefits keeps Swammiwa staff highly motivated, as does the implementation of helpful technology tools. “We are thrilled by the web-based database and web-based reporting which make our tracing work easier, identifying claimants and reaching them for the services and also measuring vulnerability.” Data has enabled Swammiwa to identify that those most exposed to silica dust and thus suffering from silicosis include loco drivers, rock drill operators and front end loader and winch drivers.

Jele says an influential course on Leadership for Change from the Southern Africa Trust “developed and improved my emotional intelligence on how to deal with the dynamic and complex issues of mineworkers, former miners and their families.” 

He and all the Swammiwa?staff have expended huge time and resources in the cause, at the expense of their families who have supported them. The result has been one of the most successful organisations in this field on the continent.



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