Mineworkers’ wait for billions draws closer to an end
Written by Yazeed Kamaldien
A Cape Town lawyer battling for ex-mineworkers unpaid provident funds worth billions of Rands has claimed his first victory.
Barnabas Xulu said this week that the first 52 ex-mineworkers he is assisting were in the process of claiming their provident funds. In some cases, this is 30 years after they left mining jobs.
This is just the beginning: Xulu’s office on St George’s Mall in central Cape Town houses files of at least 40,000 claimants.
Xulu is assisting ex-mineworkers claim their cash, paid monthly to investors while employed at various mining companies. The workers are scattered across South Africa as well as in neighbouring countries Lesotho, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
Xulu said: “This is billions in just provident funds. We are engaging a firm of actuaries to find out how much they invested each month and to calculate the interest on that. These 52 (ex-mineworker’s investments) were administered by Sanlam.”
“(Mining company) Anglo American have told us they have 40,000 mineworkers who have not been paid their provident funds over the years. We expect more people to come forward.”
Anglo American and investment company Sanlam confirmed the ex-mineworkers funds are available for withdrawal.
Bathini Lubaxa and Siphetho Dlongwana said this week at their poor households in Khayelitsha township. Both men and their wives are unemployed. They live in small homes with their children and other relatives.
Both worked on gold mines; Dlongana from 1979 to 1988, and Lubaxa from 1973 to 1982.
Lubaxa said: “We knew we had benefits that we did not get from the mining companies. But we didn’t know how to make these claims. We heard about Barnabas and asked him for help.”
His wife Lindiwe Lubaxa added: “I’m so glad. We are suffering because we are not working. We need this money.”
Dlongwana lives with his wife, four children as well as his brother and his wife in a cramped two-bedroom house.
“We are happy to hear that we will get our benefits. We face difficulty supporting our children who need to go to school and have food,” he said.
His wife Mangunduza Dlongwana said: “It will help me to pay for my children to go to school. We lost hope that we would get this money. Now I feel good that we will get it.”
Xulu is determined to also win compensation for ex-mineworkers who suffered health problems due to working at mines.
Dlongana and Lubaxa both related their illnesses related to working at mines.
Health records from 13 years ago for Dlongwana state that he had been suffering long-term pain in his body. He said he has a “hearing and ear problem” as he operated “drilling machine underground”.
“I also have a problem with my lungs. We inhaled smoke from the underground blasting equipment,” he said.
“The working and living conditions of a mineworker are really bad. We worked underground and sometimes could not even stand up straight while we were drilling. We sometimes didn’t even have goggles when we worked underground.”
Lubaxa worked underground, as a “machine operator and fixing pipes”. He said over the years he had struggled with “constant coughing”.
“There is a lot of pain in my chest. I used a lot of money to go to doctors to find out what’s wrong. They couldn’t tell me. My legs and feet have also been in pain all these years. I know all of this is because I worked in the mine,” he said.
“We inhaled a lot of dust underground and there were no masks at the time. There is also water underground and it is acidic. It would get into our feet through our boots.
“My ear has also been damaged because of the noise levels of the machines we worked with. We didn’t get earplugs.”
Xulu said: “Many of them are sick as a result of occupational related sickness and could not find employment after they left the mines. They have never been compensated for the illnesses suffered as a result of working at the mines.”
“We will lodge claims with the labour and health department. Mining companies paid levies to the government, meant to cover occupational injuries. The claims against the government and mining companies for occupational health risks will also be billions (of Rands).”
Xulu said his journey with ex-mineworkers started last May and it has taken “time and research”. He found that “authorities have been aware of these (unpaid) claims”.
“The process to claim the funds has been difficult for ex-mineworkers. They need to have tax numbers, bank accounts, fill our forms and have an assessment by a state approved and accredited doctor,” said Xulu.
“Some of the ex-mineworkers stay in rural areas where they don’t have access to even basic services. Others are out of the country and they were not here to follow up on these things. And if you are uneducated this is not easy.
“Others have died before they had access to their rightful benefits. Their families are claiming on their behalf. Their children and wives are entitled to claim.”
He added: “This tells you about the inequality of South Africa and human rights education in this country. People don’t know their rights.”