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Ex-miners’ families reveal the hardship of securing silicosis compensation from apartheid’s gold mines

Ex-miners’ families reveal the hardship of securing silicosis compensation from apartheid’s gold mines
Nonthutuzelo Ludziya and her granddaughter are still waiting for the compensation promised by Tshiamiso Trust. May 2023. (Photo: Kabelo Mokoena)

In a landmark class action victory five years ago that led to the establishment of the Tshiamiso Trust, gold miners who became ill from their work underground were promised payouts that would change their lives, and ease their pain and suffering. But for many ex-gold miners and their dependants, their pain became aggravated when trying to claim. We profiled a few ex-miners and their families – these are their stories, with visual portraits by Kabelo Mokoena.

Tshiamiso is a Setswana term which means to make good or to correct. The Tshiamiso Trust was formed after a settlement agreement of R5-billion between six mining companies and some of their affiliates (the “participating gold mining companies”) and the class action representatives of miners who contracted tuberculosis or the incurable lung disease silicosis at the mines between 12 March 1965 and 10 December 2019.

The month of May marks exactly five years since the initial historic settlement was reached and two years and three months since the trust was established to administer claims.

At the time of publication, a total of R1.092-billion had been paid to 12,190 claimants. 

For the latest update on the status of compensation, see here.

But for the many claimants who say they have not received their settlements, this is causing a lot of frustration and dismay.

Daily Maverick has interviewed some of the ex-gold miners and their dependants, who represent thousands of victims nationwide and in the SADC region, to learn more about their struggle in trying to access their settlements. They are part of the grassroots Abelang diTshwanelo tsa bone organisation campaigning for settlements for the eligible ex-gold miners and their dependants who fell victim to silicosis and TB and have not received what is due to them. The organisation is still in its mobilising phase in Khutsong township in Carletonville and Welkom in the Free State. These are their stories. 

‘I curse the name Tshiamiso Trust.’ These were the words of widow Nomaxhosa Matheza-Dwadube. (Photo: Kabelo Mokoena)

‘There is no dignity for ex-gold mine workers’ – Nomaxhosa Matheza-Dwadube

Nomaxhosa Matheza-Dwadube from Virginia in Welkom is the widow of former mineworker and activist Vuyani Elliot Dwadube. She says she lodged a claim for settlement with the Tshiamiso Trust on behalf of her deceased husband in February 2021, but two years later she has not received anything. She keeps receiving notifications that her claim is eligible, but when she follows up with the trust’s call centre she is not treated with dignity.

“If you phone the Tshiamiso Trust it’s a curse. They will speak to you as they please because you are just a widow, a stupid woman who was married to a stupid man who worked in the mines. That’s how we are treated. Though initially we were told that the Tshiamiso Trust is going to be there for us because it exists because of these ex-mineworkers who contracted silicosis and TB in the gold mines. There was no Tshiamiso before us… It should be about us and serve us. But the trust people don’t even know us. We are like aliens on an island, especially us, the widows.

Tomorrow if you find my boy doing crime in this country for survival would you consider how he got there?

“When my husband passed away in 2016 we were already in the marathon with the settlement under Jubilee, as he also worked in the mentioned gold mine for 26 years and had contracted TB and silicosis in the line of work. However, even before his passing, he was being referred from post to pillar for both diagnoses and at some point told the TB he had was not paying even though it was in its second degree and [he] also had silicosis second degree which led to his demise.”

Dwadube said that in 2023 she called the trust to check on the progress of her claim only to learn that her claim was reversed from stage 7 to stage 5 and that they needed her to resubmit her husband’s autopsy report. Until that follow-up call, she added, no one had ever mentioned it to her or followed up with her in the two years she had been lodging the claim. She had initially been told that processing the claim would take 90 days after submitting all the required documents – death certificate, autopsy report, or health records, the ID documents of the claimant and mineworker and service records.

Read more in Daily Maverick: R5bn TB and silicosis payout: Clock is ticking for 500,000 ex-miners

The delays have taken Dwadube back to the days when she had to push her husband in a wheelbarrow because he was too sick to walk into clinics and hospitals to get medication for TB and silicosis.

“Where is the justice for him and me as his wife? I am still struggling to raise three boys with no father. I have turned to domestic work where I earn R3,500 which comes in handy for the survival of our children and myself but it is not enough; the cost of living is high in South Africa. But Tshiamiso is still withholding settlements. Tomorrow if you find my boy doing crime in this country for survival would you consider how he got there? Thabo Bester did not just drop off from a tree, he comes from situations like this one,” she said.

Samuel Motsamai Maikholo has a voice that sounds like he is running out of breath. In 2009, Maikholo retired from working at the mine and is yet to be paid his compensation that he was promised by Tshiamiso Trust. (Photo: Kabelo Mokoena)

Samuel Motsamai Maikholo started working at a mine in 1972. He contracted TB and silicosis. (Photo: Kabelo Mokoena)

‘Tshiamiso is holding back our lives and well-being’ – Samuel Motsamai Maikholo

Samuel Motsamai Maikholo, a resident of Thabong in Welkom, told Daily Maverick that since the age of 20 in 1972 he worked at various gold mines, including St Helena, until his early retirement due to medical unfitness in 2010, at the age of 58, after contracting silicosis in his line of work.

“At the time I worked at the mines, safety and wellness were not a priority. We inhaled the silica dust day in and out as well as the spraypaints which are often used in mines. I ended up contracting the lifelong illness silicosis and got an early retirement in 2010 as I was too weak to continue working. As a result, I am often out of breath because of the illness and I have had to survive with prednisone medication. 

If not for me the trust should consider the well-being of my family to whom I have transmitted this TB.

“Once I’m out of breath I can’t do anything. It is only the medication that makes me feel better. I have tried to claim from Tshiamiso but often the response is a referral from post to pillar. I have not received the compensation. Instead, I’m being told to undergo more medical examinations to test for TB even though I have the medical records of diagnosis with first-degree silicosis from the Medical Bureau for Occupational Diseases.”

Maikholo said he needs the settlement to buy the treatment to keep him alive and healthy, since he is sickly most of the time.

Mhlonipheni Gcuma (60) was working at a mine for 31 years. He has not received his money, which was promised by Tshiamiso Trust. Gcuma contracted TB from the mine and has been living with this illness for nine years. (Photo: Kabelo Mokoena)

‘There’s no hope, a long wait, and no communication from the trust’ – Mhlonipheni Gcuma 

Like Maikholo, Gcuma, who was a mineworker for 31 years and now lives in Virginia Zone 14, was diagnosed with both TB and silicosis and was relieved of his duties owing to medical unfitness. He says the TB bacteria in his body is at an advanced and incurable stage. Due to the crowded living conditions he and his family are subjected to, his two sons, aged five and one, now have TB too, and must take medication with him. 

Gcuma told Daily Maverick that he lodged a claim with the trust in 2021 but has not received a cent.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Two years after landmark silicosis settlement, no one has been paid

“It has been too long since I claimed and have not received any response. Without any form of income except the children’s grants since I was relieved at work, life is hard and our living conditions are not normal. If not for me the trust should consider the well-being of my family to whom I have transmitted this TB. My children are too young to be taking TB medication and this has the possibility of permanently damaging their lungs. Surely our work in the gold mines is in vain because there is no hope Tshiamiso will pay us even when dead.”

Ketlahitlha Lekoma (79), who worked at a mine from 1968 till 2004. He has had TB and was told by Tshiamiso Trust to go and pay for medical services, an X-ray, which cost R950, in order for him to get his money promised by the trust. (Photo: Kabelo Mokoena)

Access denied

Like many widows, orphans, dependants and ex-mineworkers, Nontuthuzelo Ludziya is still hoping for a settlement on behalf of her late husband, Vumile Albert Mvuka, and son-in-law Caswell Mdingi, who both worked at the Harmony gold mine. Ludziya says the Tshiamiso Trust has disputed her husband’s eligibility, saying he did not work underground, even though his service records say he did. As for her son-in-law, she has been told they will never release a settlement under his name because he wasn’t too sick.

“After a year of applying I’m now told both claims are ineligible. I have since appealed both claims and the response I have gotten is both claims are still in dispute and they will only attend to the case in June,” she said.

Another claimant, Ketlahithla Samuel Lekoma, says the trust has denied him access to the settlement because he couldn’t afford their medical examination – R950.

Portraits of ongoing pain - families of ex-miners reveal the hardship of securing silicosis compensation from apartheid's gold mines

Nonthutuzelo Ludziya and her granddaughter are still waiting for the compensation promised by the Tshiamiso Trust. (Photo: Kabelo Mokoena)

“The last time I was at Tshiamiso they told me to go for an X-ray that would cost me R950 and because I don’t have that amount my claim has not been processed. They wouldn’t take my medical records stating the TB diagnosis and where I took the treatment from. Now I’m not sure what I should be doing as the claiming process is not easy, especially for people my age and ex-mineworkers who are uneducated and lack information and understanding of the trust processes as information is often shared on the internet platforms.”

Not working for the people

“If Tshiamiso can work with the people who were working with us, about us, administering the settlements should be an easier job to do. They should come down on the ground where the people are to serve us. There is no other way unless they want to keep on getting paid while we are stuck,” said another unpaid claimant, Michael Motalane Mokhele, a resident of Khutsong township in Carletonville.

Thembile Malingatshoni only received a little amount of the money he was promised and which he was expected to get. He worked at the mine from 1972-2009, and contracted TB and silicosis 2nd degree. (Photo: Kabelo Mokoena)

Settlement inconsistencies

Of the more than 30 interviews that Daily Maverick conducted with ex-gold miners and their dependants only, four ex-miners from Virginia and Allanridge in Welkom said they had received their settlements, although they claimed these were too little.

In 2022, Stofile Nganeko received a settlement of R150,000 for second-degree TB. He says he was diagnosed with both second-degree TB and silicosis but the trust deducted R7,171 from the settlement because one mine in particular he had worked for, Jewel, had not made its contribution to the settlement.

Thembile Malingatshoni received a settlement of R66,000 for second-degree silicosis and TB in the same year and was told it was enough compensation.

While Nganeko and Malingatshoni were diagnosed with the same conditions, there’s a difference of R84,000 between their settlements.

“When this trust started we were promised that it will change our lives, hence the name Tshiamiso. However, the settlements we have received cannot change our lives. But have had to accept what they say and what has been given to us because others have received nothing,” said Malingatshoni. DM


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