Finally, the long wait for tuberculosis and silicosis sufferers to lodge compensation claims to Tshiamiso Trust is over following the launch of the Benefit Medical Examinations (BMEs) facility in eSwatini. According to the Trust’s media statement, the long-awaited service started at the Hlathikhulu Government Hospital on 16 October. It will be rolled out to Manzini, Mbabane and Siteki to ensure all ex-miners and their dependants access it. The Trust had seen 2,500 claims lodged at TEBA offices in eSwatini in the past two years, with just over 1,000 ex-mineworkers awaiting BMEs in order for their claims to progress.
“The launch of BME pilot services in eSwatini means that the Trust can now book claimants for medical examinations. We encourage claimants to lodge their claims at their nearest TEBA office in order for them to be booked for BME.” Dr Munyadziwa Kwinda, Chief Executive Officer at Tshiamiso Trust says, adding: “This is part of our ongoing efforts to provide greater access to the Trust’s services and ensure that eligible claimants can receive the compensation that is due to them.”
In February, Inhlase ran an investigative story headlined “Agonizing battle for Tshiamiso compensation taking toll on ex-miners” which highlighted the sorry plight of emaSwati ex-mineworkers sent from pillar to post at the locally-based TEBA Offices. Inhlase demanded answers from eSwatini’s Ministry of Labour and Social Security and SA-based Tshiamiso Trust headquarters. The latter explained that the major delay in the claims process was due to lack of the BME service in eSwatini. This spurred the government and miners’ associations to work together with the Trust to solve this problem.
The Trust was set up by the South Africa’s six biggest mining companies to compensate current miners and ex-miners suffering from silicosis and work-related tuberculosis. These are African Rainbow Minerals, Anglo American South Africa, AngloGold Ashanti, Harmony Gold, Sibanye Stillwater and Goldfields. They created Tshiamiso Trust after a landmark silicosis and TB class-action lawsuit to give effect to the R5 billion settlement agreement.
Dr Kwinda points out that the BMEs are a critical part of the claims process. These examinations provide the required evidence of silicosis or tuberculosis and indicate the extent of the lung damage that enables the Trust to certify claims accordingly.
“We are grateful for the support of the government in eSwatini, as well as the ex-mineworkers’ associations and other local partners as we continue to expand and improve our footprint,” he adds.
The launch of the BME service is welcome news to many ex-mineworkers and beneficiaries who have been unable to lodge compensation claims to the Trust. One of the ex-miners,Nhlanhla Matsebulu (49) of Motshane area, counts himself lucky to be still alive. He was diagnosed with an occupational lung disease whilst working in the SA mines way back in 2017. He tells Inhlase that his employer had sent him back home to die without paying the compensation.
“That the long-awaited medical examination service has found me still alive is unbelievable. I’m in and out of Mbabane Government Hospital and community clinics. When I fell seriously ill my employer sent me back without paying me six years ago. I was told that my pay would follow, but nothing yet” he says, adding: “I’m very happy that Tshiamiso has brought the BME service in my lifetime to help us get our compensation. We will get the right medical examinations and certificates that will qualify us to get our money.”
Thabsile Mavimbela, who takes care of her ex-miner husband suffering from silicosis, echoes the same sentiments. But not easily carried away, she expresses her deep concern that the Trust has taken too long to bring the critical medical examination service to eSwatini. She, however, lauds it for finally coming closer to the suffering ex-miners and forgotten beneficiaries who need a much quicker process of the compensation claims to meet their necessities.
“I hope the BME service will bring to an end the long wait for claims which has resulted in many ex-miners dying without getting paid their compensation. I really can’t wait for Mbabane slot to take my own husband to do the required medical check-up. I’m eternally grateful to God that my husband has survived the Covid-19 pandemic. There was a time when I thought I would lose him when he was attacked by Covid-19. Thanks to our son, a qualified nurse, who gave him medical help and he miraculously survived the pandemic,” she says.
Swaziland Migrant Mine Workers Association (SWAMMIWA) secretary general, Vama Jele, who doubles as the Southern African Miners Association (SAMA) regional coordinator, is overjoyed that Tshiamiso Trust will finally compensate the ex-mineworkers suffering from silicosis or TB and dependents in eSwatini. He notes that the ex-miners have come in numbers regardless of the rains to do the benefit medical examinations since the BMEs facility was officially launched on 16 October. According to him, up to 123 ex-miners were medically examined from Monday to Tuesday.
“Within the two days we also attended dependents claims for an additional total of 30 which were widows and children. As for now I also manage to monitor the work flow and felt happy,” he says, adding: “The service that they are giving is very critical as they conduct the lung infection tests to the ex-miners and other checks. It is very encouraging to see government committed to ensure the ex-miners get service they have been looking for this long.”
Jele gives credit to the Ministry of Health and National TB Programme for cooperating with other Government ministries to assist the ex-miners and beneficiaries. He also thanks Hlathikhulu Government Hospital that beyond hosting the service it has also ensured that the sick and vulnerable ex-miners are taking care of them in the twilight of their lives. He is appreciative of support from the Miners and Associations. He encourages them to continue with advocacy and the social mobilization of the ex-miners and dependents.
The Trust also encourages mineworkers and families of the deceased mineworkers who meet the criteria but have not yet lodged a claim to do so now at the TEBA office in Mbabane or Nhlangano, or call Tshiamiso Trust can on 00 27 10500 6186. But they should note that this is a call back number.
The Trust also warns claimants to be careful of people impersonating it or promising to help speed up their claims. Only the Tshiamiso Trust can process claims. This is a free service. Claimants must only share their documents with the officials at the lodgment offices.