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Why it’s hard for ex-miners to get benefits

Caswell Tlali

MASERU — In September 2011 ’Mamohlomi Letlailana’s husband, Pitso, died in Welkom where he had worked in the mines.
They had been married for over 30 years.
But when she tried to claim his pension from the mine, the South African department of home affairs told her that Pitso was not her husband.
The department said she would not get the pension until she proves that she was married to Pitso.
They had a customary marriage.
Letlailana, 54, fainted when she was told that she was not married to Pitso.
She had been to several offices both in Lesotho and South Africa seeking help to claim the pension.
In Lesotho, she had gone to the Ministry of Labour and Employment which is responsible for claiming pensions on behalf of migrant workers.
The Employment Bureau of Africa Limited (TEBA), a recruitment agency for South African mines, also failed to help.
She then crossed the border to Welkom where her claim was also rejected by her husband’s employer.
Her husband, like many Basotho mineworkers in South Africa, had applied for an identity document (ID) after 1994 when the then President Nelson Mandela’s government made a provision for them to have the IDs irrespective of their Lesotho citizenship.
His South African ID was the reason the country’s home affairs department told the widow that she could not have access to her late husband’s funds because they were not married.
Letlailana is one of thousands of Basotho widows of mineworkers who are unable to access pensions and other benefits from South African mines.
Her experience mirrors the difficulties the claimants, most of them either illiterate or semi-literate, have to endure when they approach the mines seeking the pensions.
“I had travelled all the way from Tebang in Mafeteng to Welkom with the hope of getting my husband’s monies, but see what I received!”
Thanks to the Ex-Miners Association of Lesotho, Letlailana eventually received part of the funds in February this year.
Letlailana was one of hundreds of widows, orphans and former mineworkers who expected South Africa’s National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), Chamber of Mines, Provident Fund 1970 and the Employment Bureau of Africa Limited (TEBA) to answer their many questions on Thursday last week.
The Ex-Miners Association had invited the organisations to a dialogue in Maseru but had to cancel it after all of them allegedly said they could not make it to the meeting.
Ex-Miners Association general secretary Rantšo Mantsi told a press conference on Wednesday that the cancellation had dispirited the associations members who were eager to ask why it is so difficult to claim their monies.
“We had invited people from each district in Lesotho with the hope that at last they would hear from these organisations why they spend years without getting their monies,” Mantsi said.
Many of people working in the mines are either illiterate or semi-literate, he said.
Mantsi is himself a victim.
He left the mines in 1990 but only knew that he had been contributing to the provident fund in 1997 when he made enquiries about his benefits.
He was only paid through TEBA in 2011 after years of fighting.
“Many of them have died of HIV/Aids-related illnesses, TB and other occupational diseases unaware that there are special funds to compensate them,” he said.
The Ex-Miners Association’s Country Coordinator Lerato Nkhetše said people in most cases “fail to claim even if they have near perfect knowledge about the benefits because related information is not prepared in a way that makes it easy for claimants to use it”.
“We have found a long list of people eligible for these benefits but there are only surnames,” Nkhetše said.
“Also, there are no addresses, which makes it difficult for claimants to know anything from that given information,” he said.
“Some of the people who go to South Africa to claim are old women whose husbands or sons died and they know nothing about the mines or mining companies they worked for.”
He said many give up.
In February this year, a South African newspaper Mail & Guardian discovered that mining companies owe former workers a whopping M5.7 billion.
Most mineworkers in South Africa are from Lesotho and Mozambique.

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