A voice for migrant miners

Vama Jele, general secretary of SWAMMIWA.

Vama Jele, general secretary of SWAMMIWA.

Migrant mineworkers are all too often forgotten about — the bottom of the long chain of those involved in unearthing precious minerals from African soil.

The Swaziland Migrant Mineworkers Association (SWAMMIWA) was formed in 1993 as a community endeavour to serve the interests of miners, ex-miners, their families and communities on issues of labour migration, post-employment rights, health and social protection. High on the list of those interests was ensuring that they received benefits, pensions and compensation for illness and injury, particularly tuberculosis, silicosis and HIV.

SWAMMIWA general secretary Vama Jele maintains that calls for solidarity and efforts to raise awareness around the issues of former miners and their families need to be ongoing. Migrant miners who contract silicosis and tuberculosis from working in mines without safety equipment are often sent back to their country of origin with no support or medical care, and have no collective voice with which to stand up for their rights.

Since its founding, SWAMMIWA’s progress includes a draft bilateral agreement between South Africa and Swaziland drawn up in 2015. A Green Paper on International Migration was gazetted in June 2016 and includes proposed special work visas for SADC members in South Africa, as well as a programme to regulate migrant workers currently in the country.

The association provided input into the SADC Code of Conduct on Tuberculosis in the Mining Sector (2012 and 2015), which delegates responsibilities for TB, HIV, silicosis and other respiratory illnesses among miners, families and communities.

SWAMMIWA has also developed a policy for the portability of social security benefits and services.

Jele says to date 270 claims have been completed for occupational disease compensation for ex-miners and deceased miners in Swaziland, with more than R274-million paid out between 2013 and 2015.

The association has also facilitated pension payments of about £75 000 to Swaziland national miners who worked for Havelock asbestos mine. It has paid widows and dependents from R91-million left from litigation against Fidentia for misappropriating R1.1-billion held in the Living Hands Umbrella Trust for orphans of workers who had died while employed.

Income from litigation has also funded community projects for widows that include vegetable and dairy farming, making polish, rearing goats and indigenous chicken farming projects.

Jele says SWAMMIWA is regarded as the “shining light” of organisations that fight for benefits on behalf of those without a voice.

“We have been invited to address the SADC Parliamentary Forum on the issues of ex-miners, miners and their families. We have participated in many forums to demonstrate our initiatives and show how we drive partnerships from government, unions, CSOs [civil society organisations], [the] private sector and politicians.” 

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