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Over 300 000 ex-miners never received the money or healthcare due to them when they could no longer work in the mines due to age, or occupational illness and injury.



Right, Professor Zukiswa Zingela, psychiatrist and Executive Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at Nelson Mandela University.

 “This is a painful story of ex-miners from the Eastern Cape who, over the decades, went to work in the mines in different provinces of South Africa,” explains the Executive Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at Nelson Mandela University, Professor Zukiswa Zingela.

“The majority have never received the financial payments due to them when they left the mines, nor the health assessment or healthcare they required when they could no longer work and support their dependents.

Many others who retired didn’t know the process of claiming their pension benefits or provident fund savings.

“A minority have been paid out by the mines, or claimed their medical insurance or pension funds, or received a pay out from the Compensation Commissioner. The majority have not. The money is sitting in funds waiting for the miners to claim it but time is not on the miners’ side, and a number have died while waiting for compensation.”

In consultation with the Ex-Miners Council and the Eastern Cape Department of Health, Prof Zingela is leading a team from the Faculty of Health Sciences to research the plight and health needs of ex-miners. “The majority of an estimated 300 000 ex-miners (according to Department of Health research) are living in conditions of abject poverty, which is very much part of the social determinants of ill health, and yet they have money due to them,” Prof Zingela explains.

Rural Eastern Cape in the former Transkei where many ex-miners live in very remote areas. Photo:  Heather Dugmore

This situation has dragged on for years. An initiative to resolve this aberration of social justice were initiated by the then Minister of Health, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi in 2014 to do basic medical evaluations on the ex-miners which is required for them to claim if they could no longer work due to occupational illness or injury, but it never achieved its goal.

Prof Zingela explains that what the Department of Health did under Dr Motsoaledi was to start mapping where the ex-miners are living and define the estimated numbers. “From this, they know the largest number of ex-miners are in the Eastern Cape, with others in North West, Mpumalanga, Limpopo, Lesotho, Mozambique, Botswana, Angola, Malawi and Zimbabwe.”

The late Executive Dean of the Faculty of Health at Nelson Mandela University, Professor Lungile Pepeta helped to revive the initiative the Department of Health pre-Covid, but tragically died of Covid-19 during the pandemic. Prof Zingela and her team are now pursuing the research required for this critical initiative, initially focusing on the Eastern Cape but with the aim of making it a southern African project.

“It’s imperative that we achieve results this time as the ex-miners are understandably disillusioned and angry that many promises have been made to help them but have never come to anything,” Prof Zingela explains.

The biggest challenge is tracking and tracing the ex-miners to help them access the medical evaluation, the results of which are required in order to link them to the appropriate channels and funds for application and disbursement of their money.

Government has proposed that one-stop-shops are established in Mthatha and Bisho where the ex-miners could access all the support departmental services they need. They would be provided with transport or transport money to get to the one-stop-shops. If the ex-miner has passed away, an immediate family member would be able to take his place but they would need documentation and be able to give a history of the deceased’s symptoms and behaviour.

What complicates access is the deep rurality of where the living ex-miners are. The more rural the area, the more difficult it has been to find them and help them access the services they desperately need, linked to the different government departments, including the Compensation Commissioner for Occupational Diseases in Mines and Works, and the departments of Labour, Health, and Social Development.

NGOs like Nonesi have assisted with tracking and tracing since 2017. They visit the rural areas in the Eastern Cape where the ex-miners are from and hold meetings with the traditional leaders and communities to explain that they are looking for ex-miners.

In addition to assisting the ex-miners in going for the basic medical examination, they take the ex-miners’ history in mining and get their employment number to trace them through the system. Nonesi works with a trust that includes specific mines and has helped some of the miners to get their due compensation.

“A key issue that my team is addressing is the fact that the current basic medical evaluation is mainly limited to lung and heart diseases but there are potentially other health problems directly associated with working in mines, and we are proposing that we do research to motivate for the evaluation is expanded to include other diseases,” Prof Zingela explains.

“One example is TB from pneumoconiosis (lung diseases caused by the lung’s reaction to inhaling certain dusts), and any miner who is HIV positive is vulnerable to TB,” Prof Zingela explains. “There are also a number of mental conditions, such as depression, anxiety and substance misuse disorders, from working in the mines and then from being an ex-miner and poverty-stricken.

“We want to research the social justice issues that affect ex-miners, including the social, health and psychological problems resulting from not having an income, and the community-based interventions we could co-create with the ex-miners population that could make a difference to their health and social challenges.

“We are partnering the Mthatha-based Walter Sisulu University in our research and we are hoping to start this year, once our proposal is approved by the research and ethics committee.”

Contact information
Mrs Debbie Derry
Deputy Director: Communication
Tel: 041 504 3057