By Inhlase Reporter
Aggrieved widows of ex-miners and ex-miners from some SADC countries, who have been sent from pillar to post, while pursuing their pay-out have made one solid demand at a high-level meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa; pay us the money.
They also want SADC governments and South African bankers to find urgent and innovative initiatives to finally unlock the social security benefits owed to miners and ex-miners as well as a way compensate workers affected by occupational lung diseases and injuries sustained while one duty.
Inhlase last year investigated and reported how eSwatini widows of ex-miners were living in abject poverty while the Ubank and TEBA did nothing to help them access the funds left behind by their late husbands. SADC ex-mine workers and their dependents make up about 11% of the four million beneficiaries who are owed money from the R42bn in “unclaimed” or unpaid social security benefits being held by over 1 200 different funds or administrators in South Africa.
At a March meeting this year, a group of 50 high-level delegates met at the Balalaika Hotel in Sandton, Johannesburg to discuss these unclaimed benefits.
The participants included SADC governments (South Africa and eSwatini), Southern Africa Ex-Miners Association (SAMA), mining pension and retirement funds and administrators, Mineral Council of South Africa, International Labour Organisation (ILO), Southern Africa Trade Union Coordination Council (SATUCC) and ex-miners (from Mozambique, Eswatini, Lesotho, Zimbabwe and Malawi) and widows of deceased ex-mine workers.
The meeting heard first-hand from widows of ex-mine workers, many of whom remain unpaid despite their husbands having died many years ago.
The widows, who are now left to take care of their families on their own, spoke of how their children are being forced to drop out of school as a result of the delayed payments.
Widows of eSwatini ex-mine workers, Elizabeth Maseko and Sonto Simelane lost their husbands 32 and four years ago respectively. They were among the group of widows who shared how painful and miserable their lives had been since their husbands died and how they had to raise their children without their rightful social security benefits.
Maseko explained how she had not been able to receive her late husband’s compensation funds for the last three decades because she had allegedly failed to submit documents proving that she was still alive.
Since 2016 she had tried in vain to be reinstated on the system as the Compensation Fund. But this attempt was unsuccessful despite her being able to show that she used to get paid by the fund.
Simelane on the other stated that, although her late husband had left over R100 000 in his Ubank account, she had not been able to get access to this as she was not able to get the required letter of authority from a South African Court. Inhlase published her account last year.
Ex-mineworkers also explained to the Sandton meeting what challenges they face when seeking to be paid money due to them.
The ex-mineworkers shared explicit accounts of the impact that the delays in payments have had on their families. While some claimants are unable to take care of their families others die before they get payment. These ex-mineworkers echoed a strong need to move beyond talk and find innovative ways to be paid their money without obstacles and delays.
A South African ex-mine worker, Sithembile Bernard Tholi speaking on behalf ex-mine workers who have not been paid their social security benefits pleaded with the fund administrators to simply give them their money without putting barriers like the letter of authority, and records of service.
“You had put these requirements including the letter of authority by yourselves and we are sent from pillar to post trying to getting these documents. We were here the other day talking about the requirement of record of service you sorted it and decided that TEBA will send it to you through emails. What is the fuss with the other documents?” he asked the fund administrators.
He then told the meeting that as ex-miners, they view such requirements as a stunt by the administrators to justify not giving the ex-miners their money. They called for an end to this.
“Sort this mess of your own; stop requiring these documents from us; send them among yourselves; request them from the relevant offices not us; interact with the institutions before we get to the streets,” he said angrily
Similarly, an ex-mine worker Phumzile Dai from Botswana sent the same message; “pay us our money.”
He accused the financial institutions and TEBA of dilly-dallying and complicating the process of paying their monies through seeking documents which are hard to obtain from the ex-mine workers and dependents instead of seeking them from government.
He stressed that these funds had been deducted from their pay and they simply needed the money that was rightfully theirs.
Other ex-mine worker associations across SADC and widows of ex-miners all agreed as they called fund administrators to release their money that they needed “yesterday”.
The challenges that the Sandton meeting heard about were not new to them. The issues had all been captured in 2020 Southern Africa Resource Watch (SARW) research.
The SARW, which was one of the organisers of the meeting, stated that that unclaimed social security benefits is one of the most pressing issues facing migrant workers worldwide.
The organisation added that at the end of their employment contracts, migrant workers often struggle to access their social security benefits, often due to lack of adequate documentation to claim what is due to them.
“The situation is more acute in South Africa because people from Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries like Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Eswatini, Zimbabwe, and to some extent Zambia migrated to work in mines. For generations, these migrant mineworkers contributed to the socio-economic development of South Africa,” stated SARW which also re-iterated how migrant workers have a right to their benefits being held in social security funds and investment schemes.
“Currently, more than a thousand fund administrators hold more than R42 billion in assets on behalf of over four million beneficiaries in South Africa. Some of these funds are no longer operational, leaving beneficiaries in limbo. The beneficiaries of these funds are scattered across SADC countries and have had difficulties accessing their monies,” stated SARW which urged the meeting to find a solution.
In a December 2020 study conducted on these unpaid benefits, SARW made important findings, including pinpointing size of the R42bn in unclaimed benefits being held in South Africa and the vast number of beneficiaries. The SARW research confirmed that some funds holding money are no longer operational, many beneficiaries from the metal and mineworking sectors have given up trying to access their money.
The study proposed that a high-level meeting look at instruments that would allow portability of accrued social benefits in the SADC region and how are they could be coordinated and harmonised and how effective are they.