Billions lie unclaimed in miners fund

Retirement savings have not been distributed because 3.5-million apartheid-era workers from Southern Africa cannot be traced

A total of R30bn lies unclaimed from the pension and provident funds of former miners who worked under apartheid but never received their money, according to Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi.

At the Smart Investments in Health conference in Johannesburg on Wednesday, Motsoaledi told international health experts and delegates from about 10 Southern African Development Community countries, including from mining companies and trade unions, that the payment mechanisms for mining compensation and pension fund distribution had proved to be inefficient and that efficient systems were needed to standardise processes.

The local mining industry has always relied on migrant labour from Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and other neighbouring countries.

Motsoaledi said only 6,500 people had been compensated to the value of R220m so far, with about R88m of that going to foreign nationals.

The money is due to 3.5-million workers in Southern Africa whom the department says it is unable to trace. Some had not left their addresses and could not be found, Motsoaledi said.

Mines compensation commissioner Dr Barry Kistnasamy said the unclaimed benefits were under a social protection fund. "This problem goes back many years and these are large amounts of money that are due to workers," he said.

Meanwhile, the Chamber of Mines, the Department of Mineral Resources and the health ministry have created a compensation fund of R1.5bn to compensate mine workers who suffer injuries on the job.

According to the Occupational Diseases in Mines and Works Act, compensation is given for diseases such as pneumoconiosis, tuberculosis (TB) and asbestos-related lung cancer and mesothelioma.

Speaking at the conference, National Union of Mineworkers health and safety representative Mzwakhe Nhlapo said a uniform and fair compensation system needed to be put in place and workers should be involved in its planning and implementation. "If they don’t involve us, it may not be a sustainable intervention," Nhlapo said.

Apart from the presence of a disease, other requirements must be met for a disease to qualify for compensation, such as its severity and the length of service of the victim. TB and silicosis are among the major health hazards affecting mine workers, mainly because of their work environment.

The Department of Mineral Resources has established a database of 700,000 records to assist in tracking down former mine workers who have not claimed their benefits.gumedem@businesslive.co.za