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The long wait continues



QACHA’S NEK – WHEN Mokhethi Ralinono died in 2009, just two years after being released from work due to illness, he left a message to his wife: She should expect some money.

Speaking from his deathbed, the man knew that he had signed papers through which his family would receive money from the Employment Bureau of Africa Limited (TEBA), a recruitment agency for South African mines.

However, like many illiterate or semi-literate mineworkers that for decades have been part of a labour reserve for mining companies in South Africa, the dying man did not have details of the money he directed his family to claim.

His widow ’Masebina Ralinono, 67, says she only received a small severance package and other equally trivial amounts from TEBA.

Ralinono’s husband had worked at a gold mining companies in South Africa for over 30 years until 2007 when he returned back home. He was sick and told his family that he would no longer go back to work.

“My husband ended up coming home and he stopped working,” she told thepost in a recent interview.

“He was very sick and he told me that he had some money that his children and I would have to get from TEBA offices when he died. It was back in 2007 and he died in 2009,” she says.

Ralinono went to TEBA offices in her Qacha’s Nek district to enquire about the money that her husband talked about. She didn’t receive a satisfactory answer.

“My children had to go to school and I had no money to pay for their fees,” she says.

The few little terminal benefits her husband brought from the mines had quickly run out when she was taking him to different doctors, she says.

Ralinono was elated two weeks ago when she was called at TEBA where she was told that her husband’s money was finally out and she should bring his employment information.

She was one of dozens of claimants at the TEBA offices where former mineworkers who were in the mines between 1965 and 2019 brought their employment documents.

Some, like Ralinono, were widows while others were children of the departed former mineworkers.

They are hoping that the matter will be finally settled whether the mineworkers caught tuberculosis or silicosis that the mines need to pay for as compensation.

“I still hope that I will get the money my husband promised me,” Ralinono, who was 53-years-old when she became a widow says.

“I cannot explain the joy I will have if I get the money,” she says.

“My children grew up in poverty. If I can get the money all the tears of hunger and the memories of my children sleeping without food will be erased from my mind.”

If it is confirmed that her husband indeed died of TB or silicosis, she will be a beneficiary together with about 11 316 current as well as former mine workers after Tshiamiso Trust began disbursing the first billion Maloti to affected former and current workers.

The payment comes two years after Tshiamiso Trust began processing claims for the historical M5 billion settlement agreement between mineworkers and six gold mines in South Africa.

Earlier this year, the Trust’s CEO, Lusanda Jiya, said the Trust is limited both in terms of both the time in which they can operate and the extent to which they can assist those seeking compensation.

Broadly speaking, the eligibility criteria states that a mineworker must have worked at one of the qualifying gold mines between March 12, 1965 and December 10, 2019.

Secondly, living mineworkers must have permanent lung damage from silicosis or TB and deceased mine workers’ representatives must have evidence that proves that they (the deceased) died from TB or Silicosis.

Tshiamiso Trust has a lifespan of 12 years, ending in February 2031.

Over 111 000 claims have been received to date through offices in South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, eSwatini and Mozambique.

The Trust is working with stakeholders from these countries and others to mobilise its efforts and expand operations.

The history of silicosis in South Africa goes back to the late 1880’s when the first gold mines began operations.

The gold was stored and locked in quartz, a special rock that contains large amounts of silica.

Crystallised silica particles can cause serious respiratory damage if inhaled.

In the earlier days of gold mining, dust control, health and safety standards and the use of PPE (personal protective equipment) were not as advanced as they are today.

Tshiamiso Trust was established in 2020 to give effect to a settlement agreement reached between six mining companies.

The companies are African Rainbow Minerals, Anglo American South Africa, AngloGold Ashanti, Harmony Gold, Sibanye Stillwater and Gold Fields.

The settlement agreement was reached after a ruling by the Johannesburg High Court following a historic class action by former and current mineworkers against the six gold mines.

Justice for Miners is a coalition of interested parties in the mining sector launched by the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg in 2020.

The Johannesburg High Court approved the setting up of Tshiamiso Trust to facilitate payment by the companies to affected miners.

The Trust says mineworkers who did risky work at qualifying gold mines, or if deceased, their dependants are potentially eligible for compensation.

Risk work is work where an employee may have been exposed to dust that could have caused silicosis or TB.

It says if a mineworker worked on any of these mines for more than five years then they are entitled to a free medical benefit examination to determine whether they have silicosis or TB as defined in the trust deed.

The amount of compensation depends on the nature of the eligible claimant’s illness.

The Trust says the amount will be reduced to a pro rata status for any time that they worked at a non-qualifying mine, or at a qualifying mine during a non-qualifying period.

But if they worked at one or more qualifying mines during qualifying periods for 30 years or more then they will be paid the full amount of compensation due for the relevant class of silicosis or TB as defined in the trust deed.

Mineworkers who worked for less than five years at qualifying mines are also potentially eligible for compensation. But if they want to claim the money they must have a benefit medical examination at their own expense, which will be reimbursed if it turns out that they have silicosis or TB.

The registration of potential claimants was done in Qacha’s Nek two weeks ago in the presence of Health Minister Selibe Mochoboroane.

“We want to see the lives of Basotho improving, for that matter helping Basotho to get what they have worked for will also improve their lives and help them live a better life,” Mochoboroane said.

One of the ex-miners, a 78-year-old Sello Maama of Ha-Tšepiso from Thaba-Chitja area, said he worked for one of the mines in South Africa from his youth until he retired as a frail and elderly man.

“I was promised that my money will follow me,” Maama said, adding that he was ill and he was going to check if he was suffering from TB.

“I have been waiting for the money all these years,” he said.

“The sad part is that we have been called several times that we should go and register with TEBA but we got no money.”
Maama already has plans for the money.

He wants to build himself a big house because his house has lost value and he also has a big family comprising several grandchildren.

“Some of my daughters are not married yet they have children. This means we need more rooms for all of them.”

He also said he would buy a span of oxen for ploughing to cut the costs of hiring a tractor.

But Maama lost his livestock to thieves shortly after retiring from the mines.

“If the government of Lesotho could help us get our money I would even forget about how the thieves stole my cattle and how the mines did not fulfil their promises of giving me my money.”

Another ex-miner, Likopo Sehlooho, 79, from Tsoelike Likhohloaneng, said he worked in the South African mines from the time he was in his early 20s until he was 60-years.

Upon retirement, Sehlooho says he signed some papers which showed that he would get some of his money from TEBA.

“I was happy as I signed those papers because I imagined millions that I would have in my bank.”

But Sehlooho says after many years had passed he went to TEBA on several occasions and returned empty-handed.

“The painful part of this is that other people we were working with managed to get their money. I know that I signed the necessary papers but I cannot get my money,” Sehlooho said.

However, the problem with Maama and Sehlooho might be that they retired from the mines healthy and they continued living healthy lives even years after their retirement.

Only doctors can tell if they got infected and if their infections are related to their mine work, which can qualify them for the compensation.

Qacha’s Nek started screening ex-mineworkers for TB and silicosis at the Machabeng Hospital earlier this year after Tshiamiso Trust and the Ministry of Health announced that compensations were on the way.

Thooe Ramolibeli

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