M5 billion windfall for ex-miners

M5 billion windfall for ex-miners

MASERU – RANTŠO Mantsi, a secondary school dropout from Mafeteng, has become an unlikely hero.
Tens of thousands of people are set for a windfall, thanks to his unrelenting efforts that forced seven gold mines to agree to a M5 billion settlement last Thursday.

Mantsi has been in the thick of the long and bruising fight against South Africa’s Chamber of Mines.
Seven gold producers in South Africa finally agreed to compensate mineworkers who contracted tuberculosis or silicosis during or after they left the mines.

The miners are Harmony Gold, AngloGold Ashanti, African Rainbow Minerals, Anglo American SA, Gold Fields, Sibanye Still Water and Pan African Resources. The companies have agreed to compensate workers who worked for them from March 12, 1965 to February 28, 1994 following a class suit in which thousands of ex-miners claimed compensation. The case was supposed to be heard in March in the Supreme Court of South Africa but in January the parties asked for a postponement to give room for settlement talks.

This is a hefty win for the miners or their heirs.
Compensation for claimants who contracted silicosis will start from M70 000 to M500 000 depending on the degree of the lung impairment.
Claimants for tuberculosis’s compensation will start at M50 000 to M100 000 depending on the total number of years worked in the gold mine and the degree of TB, whether it is the first or second degree.

Historical tuberculosis will be compensated at M10 000 per claimant. As John F Kennedy, 35th President of the United States put it, “Victory has a thousand fathers but defeat is an orphan”, credit will go to many people and organisations.

Mantsi says he is proud of his personal and organisational contribution to the fight. He started the fight soon after leaving the mines and when the Lesotho government disappointed him by not supporting his idea to sue. He announced in the 1990s that he would sue the Chamber of Mines and win.

When Mantsi left the mines in early 1990s he realised that the mine owed him some monies, to be specific Provident Fund and other benefits.
He had expected South Africa’s National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), of which he was a member when he was still working, Chamber of Mines, Provident Fund 1970 and the Employment Bureau of Africa Limited (TEBA) to answer his many questions but in vain.
“I remember vividly that I fought for many years for my benefits and at the end I sadly discovered that I was fighting for only M2 000,” Mantsi says.
“What a waste of time,” he says.

However, he realised that perhaps because of his lack of education he had not done enough to search for other monies the mines could owe him.
He also thought: How many ex-mineworkers are owed and trade unions cannot fight for them because they are no longer paying membership fees?
Mantsi joined active politics when Lesotho returned to democratic rule and became an MP in 1993 with the hope to drive the mineworkers’ agenda in parliament.

He was disappointed when the government showed it was not eager to fight from his corner. But he did not give up. He joined hands with a fellow ex-miner Jeremane Ramathebane to start Ex-Miners Association of Lesotho and they threatened to sue both the Lesotho and South African governments for failure to protect mineworkers. They parted ways when Ramathebane formed a party, Basotho Batho Democratic Party (BBDP) in 2006 taking the majority of the association’s members with him.

Mantsi started recruiting members afresh. But he realised that Lesotho could not fight this war alone.

With little funds the association had, Mantsi started visiting countries neighbouring countries and helped establish small organisations.
The response from these countries was promising.
“We had a serious problem in South Africa because unions did not understand that we were fighting the same war. They believed that we were competing with them,” he says.

However, they finally managed to have people in South Africa after a long battle to make unions understand them.
Mantsi was elected president of Southern African Ex-Mineworkers Association (SAMA).

“I’m not educated and many of the things discussed in some meetings are too technical for my comprehension,” he says. Mantsi says mineworkers, even if they are not educated, have taken their children to school. The educated ones in Lesotho, South Africa and other affected countries took the fight forward.

Meanwhile, other organisations like the Mineworkers’ Development Association (MDA) were doing their utmost to trace ex-mineworkers who could be suffering from tuberculosis and silicosis so that they could be treated.

Finally, the mineworkers appointed Abrahams Kiewitz Inc and Richard Spoor Attorneys and the Legal Resource Centre to help them legally while the Occupational Lung Disease (OLD) Working Group represented the mining companies.
A class action ensued, which resulted in last week’s far-reaching settlement ever reached in South Africa.
Mantsi says it will take 12 years to track down the claimants and distribute the funds, which is not an easy task as many are in remote rural areas and may do not have proper medical and other records.

He says about M845 million will be used for administration and tracking of claimants in Lesotho, South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Malawi. M370 million will be paid to law firms.

The remainder is for compensation and the final total will depend on the number of claims that are processed.
Mantsi said the Johannesburg High Court is yet to approve the settlement. He however says another lengthy job has just started – that of sensitising the nation about this settlement and tracing those eligible for compensation.

“This will be a 12-year project and you can imagine the hassle of going to all corners of the country in search of the rightful claimants or their heirs if they have died,” he says.  He says the Ex-Miners Association Lesotho embarked on a countrywide tracking and tracing project of TB or Silicosis claimants for the class action in August 2016.

However, it is not over because it has to be ascertained as to who is eligible for compensation “and it will be a lot of work”.
The settlement agreement and Trust Fund stipulates that there are ten classes of claimants who, once properly certified will be eligible for a benefit.However, Mantsi says their organisation and health centres will have a list of possible claimants and health centres which will be the bridging gap to the compensation department in South Africa.

“Documents will be highly appreciated and be thoroughly checked in order to prove record of service at the mine,” he says.
“We have taken a decision to embark on a nationwide operation of sensitising ex-miners, their spouses, dependents, traditional leaders, churches, higher learning institutions and the entire community about this settlement,” he says.


Tokase Mphutlane

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