MASERU — Thousands of Basotho ex-miners could now be finally compensated for contracting respiratory diseases while working in South African gold mines.
This is thanks to a declaration by the Southern Africa Development Communities (Sadc) Heads of State signed at the regional summit in Mozambique last month.
The declaration said Sadc countries were committed to the “development and strengthening of a legislative environment that supports compensation of mine workers and ex-mine workers that contract any occupational disease”.
The regional governments also committed themselves to ensuring that employers take full responsibility for the management of all occupational diseases including TB cases associated with silicosis post-employment and to ensure a working environment that minimises exposure to silica dust.
The declaration promises that enough funding will be sourced from governments and mining companies for compensation obligations and to mobilise resources to support programmes addressing the issues of TB, HIV, silicosis and other occupational respiratory diseases in the mining sector.
Thousands of Basotho who worked in the South African mines contracted TB and silicosis.
Their battle for compensation has been a long and painful one.
Some have died before being compensated.
Frustrated, some ex-miners have engaged lawyers to help them to get the mines to pay for damages caused by the mine gases and dust to their respiratory systems.
Earlier this year Richard Spoor, a South African human rights lawyer, reported that more than 7 000 Lesotho ex-miners had instructed him to lodge a multi-billion dollar lawsuit against South African gold mines.
However, ex-miners associations have raised concerns about lawyers, who they say rip-off desperate ex-miners by charging exorbitant fees.
Rantšo Mantsi of Ex-miners Lesotho said the Sadc heads declaration will protect the claimants against legal representatives who charge excessive fees to fight their cases.
“The declaration comes at a time when ex-miners, desperate to get their compensation for contracting occupational diseases fall victim to lawyers that rip them off. They charge heavy fees and when the claims go through most of the money goes to pay for the legal fees,” said Mantsi.
“That will come to an end now that governments are taking the responsibility to assist their men who have served in the South African mines.”
Regional ministers of health, finance, local government, labour and mining will be directed to initiate the implementation of the declaration and monitor progress.
The progress on the implementation of the declaration will be reviewed during summit meetings.
“For more than one hundred years, legions of miners in the southern Africa region have been suffering from and dying of tuberculosis (TB). This declaration gives us the opportunity to change this lamentable situation and the Stop TB Partnership is fully committed to supporting an action plan to realise the aims of the declaration and its implementation,” said Dr Lucica Ditiu, executive secretary of Stop TB Partnership in response to the signing of the declaration.
Mine workers in South Africa currently have the highest rate of TB in the world.
An estimated third of TB infections in the southern Africa region are linked to mining activities, according to the Stop TB Partnership.
“Recent research has estimated that three percent to seven percent of miners are becoming ill with the disease each year. Because the mining industry in South Africa is heavily dependent on migrant workers from surrounding countries — particularly Lesotho, Mozambique and Swaziland — the mines serve as a wellspring for infection.”
“Each migrant worker who returns home with TB spreads the disease to an estimated 10 to 15 people in his community,” the organisation says.