/ 30 September 2022

‘I will fight the Tshiamiso Trust till I die

Anna Ranyama 0608 Dv
Anna Ranyama holds a gold-framed portrait of her late husband, Mahlomola Ranyama. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

A gold-framed portrait of Mahlomola Ranyama hangs proudly on the wall in his family’s crumbling home in Allanridge, Welkom. “I miss him a lot,” said his wife, Anna. “He always looked after all of us.”

In 2019, her husband, a former gold miner, died from TB. She lodged an application for compensation with the Tshiamiso Trust in February 2021. Thirteen months later, she is still being sent from “pillar to post” to get the documentation to complete the process. “There are more than 50 widows like me in Allanridge struggling with Tshiamiso.”

Her husband had TB on many occasions and was hospitalised for three months. “At home, he would sit outside as he struggled to breathe. The doctor told him his illness was a result of working on the mine.” 

To help pay the bills, her eldest son had to drop out of university and now works at a local mine.

 “Now, he’s the breadwinner and I’m scared he will become sick like his father,” she said.

In her diary, is a letter penned by widows in Allanridge, which Ranyama reads aloud. “There are many widows struggling. Tshiamiso doesn’t treat us well because they always look for information that we don’t have. The Tshiamiso Trust is failing us because we don’t understand how this process can be this long. They want papers and information we don’t have, our husbands are no more,” the passage read.

‘Running up and down’

According to Janet Kahn, an activist with the Justice for Miners campaign, “this running up and down” for paperwork shouldn’t be the widows’ problem. “Judge Vally [in his silicosis judgment in 2018] said the Trust should be assisting dependents. They’ve got the resources, the ins to the mines, all those records, employment histories and red tickets [certificate of fitness], so why are they making these people run around producing documents?”

Daniel Kotton, chief executive of the Tshiamiso Trust, says claims for deceased miners are complex because they cannot attend a medical examination. 

“Obtaining the required proof of the medical and cause of death information is challenging.” 

While the trust does assist dependents with sourcing documentation from the Medical Bureau for Occupational Diseases (MBOD), mining companies and other stakeholders, there are often documents that cannot be accessed through these sources. “The Trust has initiated discussions with various government authorities and other SADC countries to discuss how dependents can access relevant documentation.”

Ranyama says the other widows of Allanridge draw inspiration from her. “They see me going up and down all the time,” she smiled. “I haven’t given up hope.”

Irrelevant medical records

When lodging, claimants have the option to either use their approved MBOD certificate or follow the full eight-step claims process. But Kahn said lodgement officials are not explaining to claimants well enough the consequences of having a medical examination where they have a MBOD certificate.

“In fact, in Welkom, many claimants have been told that their medical records (like lung biopsy results and CT scan results) are irrelevant and the Tshiamiso Trust makes its own decisions. The trust deed specifically allows claimants to use MBOD certificates of first or second degree silicosis only, or first or second degree TB only, and then not undergoing a medical examination. This is being undermined at the lodgement sites.”

Kotton said lodgement officers do explain the election and the consequences of the election, where relevant. “Measures have been put in place to make this clearer at the time of lodgement.”

‘I will fight them’

When retired mineworker Gerrie Coetzee got up one morning in 2016, he started coughing so violently he lost consciousness. A CT scan and a lung biopsy would confirm he had silicosis. He wasn’t surprised after working underground for 38 years.

Coetzee lodged a claim with the Tshiamiso Trust early last year but has subsequently been found medically ineligible for claim compensation. “The biggest thing that is bothering me is that I know I’ve got silicosis and they say, ‘No, sorry.’”

Kahn said Coetzee’s MBOD benefit medical exam fell before the effective date in the trust deed – 9 December 2019 – and this means he is eligible to use his first-degree silicosis certificate. It indicates a moderate stage of silicosis.

“However, the medical bureau only issued the certificate the day after he did his lodgement. The Tshiamiso Trust is insisting that because he did not ‘elect to use’ his … approved certificate at lodgement, he cannot rely upon it now. The fact that the MBOD took over two years to issue the certificate (from March 2019 to June 2021) has no bearing for the Tshiamiso Trust.” 

Kotton, however, said the trust deed is prescriptive and stipulates that election must happen at lodgement. “If there is no approved Occupational Diseases in Mines and Works Act certificate at lodgement, then the relevant clause does not apply, and the claimant must proceed to [the] benefit medical examination.”

For living mineworkers who require this examination, both X-rays and lung-function tests are required, as stipulated in the trust deed, he said. “A claimant can therefore not be certified as medically eligible if either one of those tests is unavailable, as was the case with this claimant.”

Coetzee is now being treated for oesophageal cancer and was advised by his medical team not to go for a second X-ray. “He is on the phone with them [Tshiamiso] fighting for hours and I don’t know if it’s worth it,” said his wife, Eloma. 

He interjected: “This thing is bothering me so much. I told my wife that I will fight the Tshiamiso Trust until the day you bury me.”

*Coetzee died on 28 September. “I am now livid about Tshiamiso because the doctors told me he died because of his lungs,” Eloma said this week. His doctors did another lung biopsy, including a gland which they were originally scared the cancer had spread to. It came back as silicosis.” She is arranging for his lungs to be examined.