BY ZWELETHU DLAMINI
Imagine, you have over E700 000 sitting at a bank and you cannot access it. In the meantime, you and your children struggle to put food on the table.
This may sound like tale from another planet but for Ncamsile Dlamini of eKutsimleni in the Manzini region, this is the hellish life she had to go through on a daily basis following the death of her husband, Bholoja Dlamini in December last year.
Her husband has been working in the gold mines in South Africa for over three decades, having started working there in 1987.
Ncamsile misery is not an isolated case. She is one of many emaSwati widows who apart from dealing with the pain of losing their breadwinners, husbands and fathers of their children, they wallow in abject poverty whilst their money remains stashed in the bank.
This is because accessing those funds becomes a hustle as beneficiaries are sent from pillar to post for years as they struggle to get a “letter of authority from a South African Magistrate Court.”
This letter is a key document required for them to start the process of the distribution of the funds left by their husbands in the UBank accounts of which The Employment Bureau of Africa Limited (TEBA) Eswatini, is an agent of.
Information gathered suggests that the local court’s ‘letter of authority’ is not recognised to allow the UBank and or TEBA to close the account of the deceased ex-mine workers and transfer his funds to Masters office.
Had these funds been in a locally regulated Bank, these beneficiaries would have simply alerted the bank that the owner of the account is deceased, have the proof and the funds would have been transferred to the Master of the High Court and they would have long been distributed accordingly to the beneficiaries.
However, since they were left in the UBank, the requirements for doing so tended to be a barrier for the local widows especially in the time of Covid-19 where travelling to SA requires a test which cost about E850 per person.
For some beneficiaries the funds have stayed in the accounts for over 10 years. Some risk losing the whole amount to SA attorneys.
This is the situation Ncamsile Dlamini is faced with.
Eight months later she had not received a single cent of the E702 597 of her late husband.
Since she was a housewife and relied on the E2 000 that her husband used to send home every month while still alive she has nothing to put on the table.
She had borrowed about E10 000 at monthly interest rate of 10 per cent to pay for school fees for one of the three school going children and buy food in the first few months of the year with the hope that she would repay soon.
Little did she know that it will be months or years before these funds will be accessed.
All that TEBA tells her each time she asks about the funds is that she should go to SA to get a letter of authority before she and her seven children can have access to the funds.
This has proved futile for her in the two trips she has taken to SA with the help of her eldest daughter Nozipho.
According to a document seen by the Inhlase one of the (over 20) requirements for obtaining the letter of authority for funds or assets with a total value in the excess of E250 000 from a Johannesburg Master of the High Court is an undertaking from an attorney on a letterhead confirming that they will assist with the administration of the estate.
” We travelled to SA to try and obtain that letter but we came back empty handed and discouraged,” said the widow with teary eyes.
She revealed that at first TEBA informed them that they should go to the mine where her husband used to work if they needed the funds. However, upon arrival at the mine they were told to come back eSwatini as the funds were already in the UBank account managed by TEBA.
She said upon return, TEBA advised them to go to a Magistrate Court in South Africa to obtain a letter of authority.
She again took her elder daughter with her to assist with directions and paperwork as she is illiterate.
“Upon arrival at the Magistrate we were informed that we needed to get services of an attorney before we could get the letter of authority. We were told we cannot get a state attorney as we were foreigners and as such, we had to pay one of the private attorneys,” she said.
She said they were able to consult two attorneys that side the first told them that he charged R15 000 for the letter of authority and would require about 30 per cent of the estate once he assisted in its administration.
This was not accepted by the elderly widow and her daughter on two grounds.
“Apart from the exorbitant legal fees of E15 000 which we did not have and could not afford, we did not understand why he would further want such a large share in the estate. We left him and consulted another attorney who also wanted an arm and a leg thus we came back without the letter of authority,” she explained.
Dlamini also added that upon return home they tried getting a local attorney to assist them obtain the letter of authority but again they hit a snag as after charging them E2 000 the attorney told them he emailed the required documents to the South African Magistrate Court but they required him to go there and present them in person something which would have added the costs as a result he failed to assist them.
She was then advised to go to the ministry of labour and social security to seek help on the matter.
The ministry also told her she will need an attorney to assist her get the letter of authority.
Sonto Simelane a widow from Mgazini near Mankayanre is also in the same situation as Dlamini. Her husband died in 2019 but up to this day she has not been able to get her late husband’s funds amounting to E108 720.
She is also failing to obtain the authority letter from South Africa despite having gone there twice. She also has children to look after and has borrowed money from people hoping to repay them when she receives her late husband’s funds. She is also awaiting help from the ministry of labour and social security.
Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, Thulani Mkhaliphi said he was not aware that TEBA and the UBank did not accept local letters of authority but required one from SA which was difficult to obtain.
“I’m going to challenge them on this matter. It is wrong that the elderly people have to go to SA. They should be getting help locally. I have since called the directors of these institutions to a meeting where we will ask them to consider the local letter of authority to avoid such cases,” he said.
Swaziland Migrant Mineworkers Association (SWAMMIWA) Executive Secretary, Vama Jele said his organisation believes that the funds of ex mine workers sitting in the UBank accounts amounts to millions of emalangeni.
He revealed that over 20 widows facing similar predicaments had approached his organisation seeking help to access their late husbands’ funds and they have only been successful to help four of them receive the monies.
“Our organisation receives case by case on unclaimed benefits and unclaimed balances at TEBA Cash Account/UBank. We do facilitate and assist dependents to receive those balances hence some cases have not been successful due to limited resources to assist them and the issue of Covid 19 contributed to the destruction of most programmes on assisting claimants,” he said.
TEBA Eswatini Country Director, Sifiso Mndzebele said the matter was being addressed hence he would not comment on further.
According to information sourced from TEBA website the company is supposed to be assisting the beneficiaries with the claims something the widows feel is not done in their case.
“TEBA is contracted by various occupational health, pension and provident fund administrators to, on their behalf, trace and provide support to claimants of various unclaimed benefits. We will provide you or your family with support to complete the necessary forms and identify the necessary supporting documentation that should accompany your benefits claim,” states TEBA on their website.
“If you or any of your family members have been formally employed, you should check whether you are owed unclaimed pension or provident fund benefits, industry awards, employee share ownership schemes (ESOPs) or occupational disease benefits,” adds the company.
Contrary to the reports from the Ministry of Labour and TEBA eSwatini suggesting that the requirement that beneficiaries should produce a letter of authority sourced from South Africa is being addressed, Ubank Limited has come out to state that the requirement of the letter of authority is not going anywhere as it has legal implications.
Ubank revealed that it is a South African Bank and therefore regulated in SA thus bound to comply with South African laws when processing claims of estate.
“As the deceased former mineworkers in this case emaSwati had opened accounts in South Africa, their bank accounts were and are still regulated by the prescribed South African regulations. Therefore, the processes to be followed when claiming from the estate accounts are in terms of SA Law.
“The legal position currently in relation to deceased estates is that; beneficiaries need to obtain letters of authority or executorship (depending on the value of the deceased assets) for unclaimed funds to be released to the estate late account.
“The latter is managed by either the beneficiary appointed in the letter of authority or an executor, also appointed in terms on the letter of executorship. Both these letters can be obtained from the Master of the High Court or Magistrate’s Court in SA,” said the Ubank Communication, Public Relations & Events Manager, Anne Williams.
This explains why a letter of authority from a court in eSwatini is not accepted rather only that from an SA Court.
On costs implications that the widows and beneficiaries had to go through if they wanted to obtain the authority from an SA court, Williams said: “We regret the associated costs that families have to endure to wrap up the estate of the deceased. Unfortunately, these are beyond the bank’s control and often unavoidable when families opt to use lawyers to finalise the deceased estate.”
She said the costs implication also affect SA citizens should they elect to use the services of attorneys to assist them to wrap up the estates.
She however assured that it is not compulsory for the deceased’s families (beneficiaries) to employ lawyers to obtain Letter of Authority; they can apply for the letters themselves.
“However, for the Master of the High Court to issue a letter of authority, they need to be satisfied that they are dealing with correct people and will require to see all the relevant documents in hard copy format so they can be able to link the beneficiaries to the deceased,” said the bank.
The bank revealed that it has since introduced a new process which allows beneficiaries to email its Estate Department at email@example.com to enquire if the deceased has any unclaimed funds before they can launch the claims.
“The bank constantly communicates with our customers to alert them of the unclaimed funds and further give details of how to make their claims. In the case of the deceased customers, we often receive requests from attorneys/representative to release the late customers’ funds and this too is processed through our Estate department.
“To start the process, the beneficiaries would need to submit the following documentation: the deceased passport, the deceased death certificate, their Ubank account number/s and beneficiary letter,” the bank explained.
The bank confirmed that there are indeed funds that are unclaimed and this was as a result of some accounts becoming dormant however could not disclose the actual figure.
“These funds are retained in an allocated account until the customers approach the bank to reactivate their account and reinstate their funds, invest the funds or withdraw the balance in their accounts. Unfortunately, due to the bank’s operating policy, we are not able to disclose the amount but we can confirm that majority of these accounts have less than R500 in them,” responded the bank.
The Ubank said it was unable to publish neither any customer funds nor their details in relation to unclaimed funds to avoid possible fraudulent activities as well as endangering its customers.
“We however, communicate with them using the last captured contact details provided by the customers through SMSes and through our Teba offices to inform them of the funds and the process to follow when they need to claim them,” said Williams.
Zwelethu Dlamini is an IJ Hub fellow attached to Inhlase Cenre for Investigative Journalism