Elithsa meets speaks to women whose husbands died as a result of their work in the mines. Living in conditions of dire poverty, they support the campaign to unlock the benefits due to former mineworkers – and to their families.
The struggle to claim the employment and retirement benefits of ex-mineworkers in South Africa has typically been dominated by men but now some women from the Western Cape have also vowed to dedicate themselves to the same fight.
Concerned ex-mineworkers have knocked on the doors of mining companies, the government, and in Cape Town they marched to Alexander Forbes, a private financial service provider responsible for tracing and processing benefit claimants for the country’s mines. Western Cape-based ex-mineworkers also demonstrated outside Parliament. Neither protest has yet yielded fruitful results.
Among the demonstrators were the widows, children and relatives of workers who died in mine accidents or from occupational diseases such as asthma and tuberculosis.
Nonkosiyabo Kulumeni (48) a mother of three from Solly’s Town Informal Settlement in Nomzamo near Strand outside Cape Town is one of several women who have devoted themselves to the cause.
Her husband, Vuyani Kulumeni, who was born in 1961 was a mineworker at Buffelsfontein Mines in Klerksdorp. Both his legs were amputated after he was injured in a mine accident.
This left him wheelchair-bound but the mine continued to utilize his services as a general worker in its non-mining operations. He got retrenched in 1991, the mine claimed because they could no longer have space for the injured employees. This forced him to return to his rural home in Matatiele, Eastern Cape where he managed to survive from some money they paid him until his death in 2003.
In 2003, The Employment Bureau of Africa (TEBA, that has recruited labour for South African mines for over 100 years) called him and other injured Eastern Cape-based former mineworkers to an urgent meeting in Johannesburg.
Tragically, the father of three lost his life when the vehicle hired by TEBA which was transporting them got involved in what Nonkosiyabo described as an unfortunate accident.
She said that TEBA only provided them with R6,000 to cover the funeral costs and that the Road Accident Fund (RAF) later compensated the family with R35,000 for the loss of life. “The RAF would have paid more, only if the deceased had survived the vehicle accident,” said Nonkosiyabo.
She feels that the mining company and TEBA owe more compensation for his loss because he died in a TEBA-hired vehicle while on his way to the organisation’s engagement.
Living in poverty
She holds both responsible for throwing her family into terrible poverty: “They never cared to support us after we lost him and also stopped the work benefits payment they made to him when he was alive.”
With eyes filled with tears, Nonkosiyabo said that her husband’s death threw her and their family into terrible poverty as her husband was the sole bread winner.
She said that two of her children had become disillusioned because they could not further their studies after passing their matric due to the lack of funds.
Ayanda (29), the first-born matriculated in 2009 while his sister, Samkelisiwe (22) passed her matric in 2015. The last-born is still doing Grade 10 in Cape Town.
“We are all stuck in poverty here. Both of my elder children have not been able to hold any employment. I’m trying to make ends meet with a meagre income from two days chars [casual jobs] as a domestic worker in Somerset West.”
The mining company had promised to build her husband a house after the mining accident but this was never fulfilled. The family has presently been left with a one-roomed brick house. Their rural, mud rondavel home in the was destroyed by a storm in January 2016. She has been unable to rebuild it.
Nonkosiyabo currently pays a R250 monthly rent for a two-roomed shack she occupies in Nomzamo with her daughter and a grandchild. Her son lives in his own shack in the recently established Khutsong Informal Settlement in Grabouw.
The chance of securing a RDP house was denied her, because “I spent most of the time here in the city,” she said. “I have also been left troubled because I was sidelined from my village’s RDP Housing Development.”
Nonkosiyabo feels that she has to devote herself to the fight for unpaid benefits because the government has disappointed her. “I had always hopeful they will deal with similar issues with care and compassion but they conduct themselves in a manner which continued to neglect and suppress our human basic rights as if we were still under the Apartheid era government.”
Compensation for occupational disease
The husband of Nombulelo Zuzani (54) of Site C in Khayelitsha died in 2015 after long suffering from asthma and cancer which, she says, he got from Prieska copper mines.
“I do not know when the mining company recruited him but he spent a long period as a miner before he was retrenched in 1979. He obtained a job as a construction worker for two Cape Town-based companies after his retrenchment. Later on his health deteriorated because of the illnesses he suffered from and forced him out of his job.
“We are determined to continue to demand the government and involved mining companies reimburse affected families in this type of case,” said Zuzani.
She grumbled that there were left in great hardship as the person they all had relied on the deceased income.
“My eldest daughter (28), also became unable to further her studies after her matriculation in 2015 while my son (21) simultaneously dropped out of school as he could not cope with it after his father’s death.
“We are now surviving from my eldest daughter’s income as she is the only one who is now a general worker at a city private company,” said Zuzani.