Tshiamiso Trust announces plans to roll out process initiated after court settlement but Justice for Miners Campaign laments slow pace of settling claims

Lucas Ledwaba

Boxwell Mokholofu, a former mineworker afflicted by silicosis died from the disease in his village of Tlokweng in Lesotho five years ago lamenting the long wait for compensation.

He was one of thousands of former gold mineworkers who contracted the lung disease while working on South Africa’s gold mines between 1965 and the early 2000s who won a lawsuit against their former employers.

Mokholofu would often enquire about the finalisation of the claims from field workers attached to the Mineworkers Development Agency (MDA) in Maseru.

His frustration echoed those of thousands like him who have been waiting to be compensated following a protracted civil claim that dragged in the courts since 2012 when lawyers filed papers in the South Gauteng High Court.

The lawyers asked the courts to compel 33 companies that owned gold mines between 1965 and that period when the papers were filed to be held liable for thousands of workers who contracted the lung disease silicosis.

This week the Tshiamiso Trust which was set up as part of a R5billion court settlement to pay the former miners and their beneficiaries announced that as of 20 January 2021, prospective claimants were able to begin booking appointments at 50 lodgement offices in mining centres and areas from which labour has historically been drawn in South Africa, Lesotho, Mozambique, Eswatini and Botswana.

The Trust said in a statement that from 15 February, those offices were opened to accepting the lodgment of documents from these claimants.

It further announced that to further facilitate the payment of benefits to eligible claimants, it has negotiated a contract with Aurum Innova, SA mining’s leading occupational health agency.

“Aurum Innova is supplying mobile medical clinics and some permanent ones to carry out benefit medical examinations (BMEs) on claimants where this is necessary to prove claims. Tshiamiso has also negotiated a contract with Netcare for use of its facilities around the country. There will be further BME networks developed including, we hope, with state health facilities and with general practitioners at local sites.”

However the Justice for Miner’s campaign lamented the slow pace of settling the claims saying that only a fraction of claimants have so far been compensated by the Tshiamiso Trust due to backlogs experienced in “more than 100 000” cases yet to be processed for compensation.

The Justice for Miners Campaign first raised concerns over delays in compensations last year. Their concerns stemmed from delays caused by the COVID-19 lockdown which meant that necessary test required to determine miners who qualified for compensation could not be conducted.

Also, the fact that “due to COVID-19, the Trust was limited to considering claims from individuals [or, if deceased, their dependants] for whom there are existing medical records.”

“We are in a war zone. And there have been many casualties that must be taken care of,” the the Campaign’s chairperson Bishop Jo Seoka referring to thousands of miners who were sent home to “die a slow death in flagrant disregard of their statutory compensation rights.” The Justice for Miners Forum also cast aspersions on South Africa’s dysfunctional compensation system for miners calling it “shameful”.

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The Tshiamiso Trust said they have since dealt with 10,151 calls, and since 15 February, 5,638 claimants have made appointments to lodge and that 2,402 have formally lodged claims applications; and 408 have undergone BMEs.

“It has been a challenging exercise for the trustees to set up the huge infrastructure, based strictly on the court approved trust deed agreed by the parties, that is needed to implement the 12-year, R5 billion settlement that will ultimately pay out benefits to an expected tens of thousands of people,” said chairperson of the Board of Trustees, Tshiamiso Trust, Prof May Hermanus.

“The wait since May 2018, and since the establishment of the Trust in February 2020, has been a source of frustration for our prospective claimants, many of whom are old, and ill. Where they have passed away, the wait has been the ordeal of their dependants. The trustees and the management of Tshiamiso are painfully aware of this,” she said.

Tshiamiso Trust was founded in terms of the class action settlement agreement concluded between six mining companies, some of their affiliates, the claimant’s representatives, and the claimant’s attorneys. The trust’s mandate is to facilitate affected miner’s compensation in line with the agreed process of paying out about 500 000 ex gold miners in Southern Africa.

The companies that were party to the settlement agreement are African Rainbow Minerals, Anglo American SA, AngloGold Ashanti, Gold Fields, Harmony and Sibanye-Stillwater.

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