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‘Millions of x-miners’ funds in danger of being stolen’

Business

Bereng Mpaki

Exclusion of ex-miner groups and other key stakeholders during execution of compensation for silicosis and tuberculosis (TB) victims creates room for corruption.

This was highlighted by the Ex-Miners Association of the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho, which has called for the inclusion of all relevant stakeholders in the process to ensure that ex-miners or their dependents get their dues.

The association is adding its voice to the public outrage on the poor handling of processing of compensation claims to the estimated M5 billion silicosis and TB settlement reached between lawyers of ex-gold miners and some of South Africa’s main gold mining companies.

The six mining companies, namely, African Rainbow Minerals, Anglo American South Africa, AngloGold Ashanti, Harmony Gold, Sibanye Stillwater, and Gold Fields are involved in the settlement and about 35 000 former mineworkers from five southern African countries including Lesotho are expected to receive a share of the staggering M5 billion settlement fund.

Tshiamiso Trust is the organisation responsible for processing the ex-miners and their dependents’ compensation claims.

Rantšo Mantsi, the executive director of the Ex-Miners Association, in a recent media address, called for transparency in the processing of the compensation claims to prevent possible corruption.

He also blasted Tshiamiso for the blatant disrespect of the ex-miners’ fundamental rights for making them travel from different villages to town to join very long queues, only to return home without getting the services they came for.

Mantsi’s sentiments come in the wake of a recent outreach campaign where ex-gold miners or their survivors were assisted to lodge their compensation claims.

Tshiamiso has since disowned the roadshow saying it was initiated by the Mineworkers Provident Fund, although it only joined it from May 8-19.

Mantsi further urged the government of Lesotho to intervene in the ex-miners’ compensation as they are afraid that their monies are in danger of not reaching them as planned. 

He said the government’s exclusion along with other key local stakeholders like ex-miners’ advocacy bodies in the whole compensation process is suspicious.

Mantsi said it was as if critical information on the process was deliberately being withheld from the ex-miners for someone to benefit from their funds.

“The exclusion of ex-miner associations and other key stakeholders like the government in the whole compensation process is very concerning to us. Mantsi said.

“We, therefore, urge the government of Lesotho to jealously defend the rights of Basotho, especially the elderly and sick ex-miners and their dependents against violations of any kind by Tshiamiso.

“We also urge the government of Lesotho to insist on Tshiamiso to execute to the letter, the settlement agreement, as per the class case #44060/18 delivered on July 26, 2019, by the High Court of South Africa Gauteng Local Division – Johannesburg.”

Among others, the settlement indicates that silicosis sufferers with mild lung function impairment of less than 10 percent lung function impairment must get M70,000 in compensation from Tshiamiso.

But Mantsi said they were getting reports from some of their members that they received amounts below M70,000.

The settlement agreement also says ex-miners with higher lung function impairment of 10-40 percent, are to get M150,000 from the Trust.

For those with more than 40 percent lung impairment, the Trust benefit is M250,000.

For first-degree TB, suffers are to get M50,000 from the Trust while second-degree TB sufferers are to get R100,000.

In March this year, Tshiamiso said over 500 Basotho ex-mine workers from South African gold mines had received a combined M443 million in compensation from the Trust.

It said it had processed a total of M1 billion in compensation to over 11,316 eligible silicosis and TB victims from South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini, and Mozambique at the time.

“The job currently being done by Tshiamiso Trust could have very well been handled by a local entity with a clear coordination plan. We as ex-miners were part of the glass action but we have unceremoniously been left during the process of lodging compensation claims.

“We strongly feel that since we are based in Lesotho, it is only fair for us to have been part and parcel of the whole process,” Mantsi said.

As the fallout continues, the Lesotho Chapter of Justice for Miners (JFM), which has previously condemned the deplorable manner in which Lesotho ex-miners had been treated in the process of lodging their claims, has responded to claims of a misleading statement purported to be by one of its members.

“JFM rejects and condemns as defamatory a widely circulating WhatsApp voice note in which a seSotho speaker with a South African accent makes a number of untrue statements about who can claim compensation under the out-of-court settlement that led to the formation of the Tshiamiso Trust and about the grounds on which compensation can be claimed.

“JFM condemns and rejects this communication in the strongest terms as it falsely implicates the prominent JFM activist Janet Kahn and the JFM Medical Advisor, Dr Rhett Kahn, in these claims.”

The rights body has further called on the Tshiamiso to hear its demands for a serious dialogue to resolve the many issues that continue to rob ex-gold miners and their dependents of their compensation rights.

On its part, Tshiamiso Trust has issued a statement on the latest developments.

“There has been great interest in a compensation roadshow that the Tshiamiso Trust is participating in, with many people coming out to get assistance from the various organisations involved.

“This roadshow was initiated by the Mineworkers Provident Fund, at the invitation of the Ministry of Public Enterprises Labour and Employment. The Tshiamiso Trust decided to join the outreach to different villages and towns in Lesotho from 4 May 2023 to bring its services closer to the people, and will be in Maseru for three days, until 19 May.”

Tshiamiso said it had an extensive network of fixed offices through the TEBA footprint in Lesotho and had delivered mobile BME services to claimants since February 2021.

There are permanent offices in Maseru, Quthing, Mohale’s Hoek, Mafeteng, Mokhotlong, Leribe, Teyateyaneng, and Qacha’s Nek, it said.

“The work of the Trust has been threatened during the roadshow, with false information about the eligibility criteria and payments made by the Tshiamiso Trust adding to the suffering of ex-mineworkers and their families. This was worsened by an onslaught of touters seeking to take advantage of claimants. “The false information that has been widely circulated and incites violence, claims that anyone who worked for gold mines is eligible for compensation and that they are paid based on the number of years of their service.

“As stipulated in the Trust Deed, the Tshiamiso Trust compensates current and former mineworkers who suffer permanent lung damage due to either silicosis or work-related TB that they contracted while doing risk work at specific qualifying gold mines during the qualifying time periods, and there are several specific criteria and requirements for a successful claim,” Tshiamiso said in a statement.

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