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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Shaft Steward Mhlabeni recalls Kinross Mine Disaster



Elliot Mhlabeni



Mbhobana Elliot Mhlabeni was born on the 18th June, 1943, in a village alongside the Mbashe River, close to Mthatha. At the age of 3 his mother died and his early childhood was devoted to tending to his father’s ubuhlanti, as a shepherd. From his early, contemplative years, he viewed the world from his rural perspectives as presenting three options for what he would like to become in life. The first option was to stay on at school like his o9lder brothers. But for him this was no option. After reaching the 4th grade his brothers received preference and he was kept at home by his father as shepherd to tend cattle and goats.


     The second option he thought about was to get a job with the white owner of a local trading store. The work that this entailed seemed interesting, but the prospect of working for the white storekeeper and speaking English was not only intimidating, but the man concerned, the storekeeper was rough and used his store as a regular shebeen. This also did not appeal to him one bit. His father was a Minister ofr the United Baptist Church in Zion. In his later years Mbhobana would follow in his father’s footsteps. But, he is quick to add, in his younger days he could consume massive amounts of beer, the traditional home brew in the rural Transkei, mkomboti.


     His third, the option to “join the mines” that he had sub-consciously chosen all along. Why? “I wanted to work for the government” was the short, confident answer. Interrogating this idea it soon became clear that the distinction made between a normal job and living in “barracks” as single men were two totally different options. “Joining the mines was to become a man. The military-type regimentation of labour in the mines seemed less threatening, in fact anything but threatening, than having to fend for oneself in the world alone. This, according to Mbhobana was the way his peers also perceived going to the mines. They would be together in compounds. They were also prepared for this with the many discussions with older folk who did their stints of contracts on the mines.     


     So “joining up”, working period contracts, living collectively in “barracks” seemed a short route to earn some cash and accumulate capital to pay labola for a wife and build a homestead. “I work with my friends in the mines and nothing changes at home: I work to come back”. This is a very sensible way of looking at life from a rural and traditional perspective.  


     Reviewing Mbhobana’s mining career as a whole it is clear that with him we have a people’s person, a people builder. Even though his rather fanciful idea of “working for the government” seems na├»ve, all the same it could have been a defence against the obstacles that older men returning from the mines placed in the minds of the youth. To become a man is a challenge. And going to the mines had many challenges, it was dangerous and white bosses were cruel. The very idea of working deep down under the surface was intimidating enough without the embellishments of the returning workers telling stories of how the roof could come down on a person for no reason whatsoever. In the face of these diversions Mbhobana remained a sensible lad and what he had in him was proved over his achievements and long mining career.  


     So, without much trepidation the adventurous Mbhobana embarked on a bus for Gauteng. Hardly had he crossed the Mbashe River when the bus was stopped by white police patrolling in a Hippo. The passengers were told to disembark and subjected to intrusive interrogation. “My God”, recalls, Mbhobana, “these white people are indeed monsters!” However, after being subjected to some slapping around, punching and cursing, it was obvious that they were not what the police were looking for. They were hunting for a group of Poqo militants who were responsible for the murders of five whites in the area, including an unborn baby.

     The first years on the mines Mbhobana had nothing regular as jobs, but drifted from mine to mine at the whims of TEBA. His first job was at the mighty Harmony Mine, close to Virginia, where he started as a machine driller. While not dissatisfied, this was a gruelling job but was better paid than even team leaders. His second job, a year later, was as a surface loco driver. During his third and fourth year, Geduld and Government Leases respectively, he was employed to be an assistant to an Underground Manager, a sort of retainer job to a white official which made even the white miners respectful to him. If the Manager was unable to visit the many places while on shift, he would send Mbhobana to outlying places for brief report backs. So Mbhobana often found white miners and even shift bosses pleading with him to keep the Manager off their backs.

      During his 5th year of employment, at East Daggafontein, he Mbhobana was a team leader, keeping haulage ways open and safe.

Training Instructor

     Elliot’s 6th year working on the mines was at Winkelhaak. Winkelhaak is on the Far East Rand and was one of the first examples of mines amalgamating with one another to form area-based monopolies. Winkelhaak formed part of a group of mines including Kinross, Leslie, Bracken, Evander and a number of smaller mines. This made it possible for these mines to share compounds, reduction plants, and a central training centre among other things. Three years after joining Winkelhaak in 1963, he was employed as a Training Instructor at the induction centre for new recruits in 1969. This job he held until his retirement from the mines in 1993, a few years after becoming active as a National Union of Mineworkers organizer. He enjoyed training, and excelled at it.

     Training Instructors were highly regarded and ranked with the position of an induna, or tribal ombudsman. Comrade Mbhobana never considered leaving this job and for a long time never took leave. Eventually the system caught up with him as TEBA came out with a new regulation that all workers had to take at least three months leave per year. Mbhobana takes a cynical view: “the only reason why TEBA did this was because they needed to earn fees for sending people to the mines”. He was as scathing about the then Transkei Homeland Administration which similarly bedevilled his life on the mines. Matamzima ordered all “Transkeians” had to return home once per year. This, according to Elliot, was merely to keep border guards flush in the pockets.

     As a veteran miner Mbhobana was street wise when it came to the tricks played by mine management, administrative and otherwise. He was recruited into the National Union of Mineworkers and was ever able and willing to help out with any complaints that mine workers brought to him. Even long after he left the mines altogether he was always free to help ex-miners who experienced problems in settling outstanding issues with either TEBA, the Chamber of Mines, the mines they worked on or even the government, they know where to go to: Mbhobana Elliot Mhlabeni.

      Between growing up in the rural areas and working on the mines there are world’s apart, but worlds brought together in the lives of men who often had no inclination to think things through about the social iniquities they were living under. One can well imagine how myths and legends based on personalities and happenings in the mines spread to the rural areas. And no less so than in the pristine area of the Transkei along the Mbashe River, where Mbhobana grew up. The sheer scale of the tragedies in terms of miners who went to work on the mines and never came back, massive accidents that made world headlines, or illnesses that plagued ex-mine workers in the rural homelands, had all the makings of a cultural impact which may seem far removed from reality, but in the minds of the youth real enough for them to construct their life expectations when planning and going to work on the mines on these myths.

     Mbhobana became a recruiting organizer for NUM in 1989. On this he blandly comments, “we worked under Management. The workers mistrusted us as they thought that the white bosses were attempting to tease or appease them”.

     He recalls a particularly sensitive story that eventually led to death benefits being deducted and paid out by provident funds. At Winkelhaak a young man was stabbed and died. Like was the case in those days, men who died of natural or work-related causes were buried namelessly behind the compounds. Nobody batted an eyelid. This was the way things were done.

     However, in this instance of the stabbed youth his recently betrothed wife travelled from the Transkei to pay her last respects. Top visit the grave she needed to get the permission of the mine manager. After permission was denied, she pleaded that all that she wanted was to place her hands over his grave and pray for him. So a great meeting took place organized by the Training Centre Instructors. They proposed that all take 50 c from their own pockets to pay for the exhumation of the young man and take him to his people in the Transkei for a proper burial.

     The mine management feared a precedent had been set which they decided to pre-empt by deducting money from migrant workers pay for “death benefits”. Mine workers had to contribute but the mine managers contributed nothing. This is how death benefits came to function in Provident Fund which was established for white miners only. Once the NUM became influential workers stopped paying for death benefits while the mine bosses had to contribute not only for burial costs, but compensation for widows and orphans as well.

177 Kinross Miners die, September 1986

From Time Magazine, September 1986: “Some 2,400 miners were on the day shift last Tuesday morning at the Kinross gold mine, 65 miles from Johannesburg. A welding team was repairing a broken track for one of the trains that help carry gold ore to the surface. Suddenly, an acetylene tank sparked and flared. Flames swept through the tunnel, igniting plastic-covered wiring, which in turn set fire to polyurethane foam that keeps the walls dry and solid. Within minutes the mine shaft filled with thick black smoke containing toxic fumes from the burning plastic. Choking miners immediately fell and died of asphyxiation. When the initial 9 1/2-hour rescue operation ended, 177 were dead, one was missing, and 235 were injured, making Kinross the worst gold-mine disaster in South African history. All but five of the victims were black, and the black-dominated National Union of Mineworkers denounced the "unacceptably low safety standards" in the mines. In fact, Kinross last year lost its top safety rating. But the mine's general manager said the plastics that burned had been considered safe. A government investigation is now under way”.


     Memories of the disaster at Kinross still haunt Comrade Mbhobana. He was part of the rescue effort. “Dead and wounded, were loaded into busses. These busses then had to drive for miles seeking clinics and hospitals where the wounded could be treated. Some ended up in hospitals as far as Ermelo” A few days after the catastrophe the mine managers were still tying to get the workers back into the mine.

      A few years later NUM organized a rally in honour of the dead which turned out to be pandemonium. The Police were called in who resorted to tear gassing the rally and outlawing a strike.

     Mbhobana got married in 1979 and settled down after his mining career as migrant worker. He built his ubuhlanti in his home village. He has since settled and lives in Bhisho. He is father of six children, the first born in 1984, and the last born 1998. His homestead thrives with 18 head of cattle, a larger number of sheep and goats. He is a good agriculturist and remains an influential man in his community.





Anxious miners waiting on surface to hear the 
latest news from underground (BBC picture)




Monday, May 30, 2011

Ukuluyake, the Vaal Reefs Loco Driver






In 1995 a loco accidentally went down a shaft and fell from 1,700 meters crushing a cage carrying 103 night shift workers. All were killed. It was the worst accident in the world involving this type of accident.




     (Ukuluyake Mongezi was born in 1960, in the East London township Duncan Village. He worked on Hartebeesfontein Gold Mine from 1981, when the was 20 years old, to 1984. He then worked on Vaal Reefs from 1981 to 1983 as a loco driver. He was involved in the Great Miners Strike of 1987. Because of this he was retrenched).

AT FIFTY YEARS OLD UKULUYAKE MONGEZI has retained vivid memories of his experiences from the gold mines. The last years coincided with probably the most significant event leading to the downfall of Apartheid. This was the Great Miners’ Strike of 1987 which shook one of the most fundamental pillars of the Apartheid Labour System. After the strike South Africa went into gear-change and by 1994, barely a few years after this earth trembling event of workers action, South Africa had its first Democratic Elections. South Africa  changed for ever. 

     But the Strike also had a life changing impact on Ukuluyake himself as well. He was literally chased away from the mine where he worked last, Vaal Reefs, with a free train ticket provided to get back home in the Eastern Cape, and R 600 as “final settlement” pushed into his hands. 

     This abrasive action was revenge of the mine bosses against the union and the workers for daring to challenge the gold mining industry and bring it to its knees. It left Ukuluyake with unfinished business which for the next years kept conversations and action together with his comrades in King Williamstown. The townships at that time, including in and around King Williamstown, were becoming ungovernable. Whenever, and wherever Ukuluyake met up with mates who suffered the same fate as he did by being summarily fired and sent home, they made plans to sustain themselves, tried to get Union support and became active in the ANC and SACP.

     Ukuluyake was born in Duncan Village on the 10th of October 1961. His parents both hail from the King Williamstown area where they were living on a white-owned farm. Like most families in their situation they quickly felt the pressure from white land owner for their children to either work for nothing on the farms or move elsewhere. Being born in Duncan Village, Ukuluyake was spared this grief. His parents moved to Duncan Village in the late 1950’s. He was the last born, but first born of his parents in Duncan Village. 

     Ukuluyake was 20 years old when he decided to escape the pressures of life in Duncan Village, close to East London. With many people living in Duncan Village, and even though there was considerable economic activity in East London, jobs were scarce and badly paid. Besides, there was constant pressure from the government to resettle the people of Duncan Village to Mdantsane, which was intended to become the capital of a new Bantustan, the Ciskei. The so-called “border industry” policy took effect which put the people of Duncan Village at a distinct disadvantage as they had to get special permission to work in “white South Africa”. And working in the so-called “border industrial areas” swallowed up their earnings.

     Duncan Village became a centre for resistance which in fact it had been for many years, even before the installation of the Apartheid regime. It was the last stronghold of the first South African workers movement, the ICL, led by Clemens Kadalie.

     Ukuluyake found in the mines an alternative to these hassles. Many of his friends were coming and stories about mines and mining jobs were not strange to him. Not everything he heard was attractive. The mines were dangerous, mine management, all whites with protected jobs, were cruel, but at least the black miners had  force of numbers of keep up morale. And which in the end proved to be historical as with growing militancy, there was the 1987 strike.
       
Hartebeesfontein Mine

His first contract on the gold mines was with Hartebeesfontein Gold Mines close to Stilfontein. After going through the normal routine of having a medical examination and basic training in the mine training centre he was found fit to work underground, as a leader of a pipe construction team. This involved laying and repairing water and compressed air pipes. With his first contract at Hartebeesfontein his talents and leadership skills were recognised. He was selected for advanced training in for a leadership role. 

     Ukuluyake’s job was hard and strenuous. Hartebeesfontein is an old mine and getting man and material to the working places through narrow and busy haulages was difficult and dangerous. Somehow he had to find his way pushing pipes on trolleys through the busy, loco-driven trains taking ore to the shaft tips and material back. The haulages are also responsible for a sizable proportion of fatal accidents on the mines. 

     Ukuluyake did a number of short contracts at Hartebeesfontein between the beginning of 1980 and the end of 1984.  
 Vaal Reefs Gold Mine

     Ukuluyake speaks of his years spent working at Hartebeesfontein Gold Mining as relatively easy and without any great accidents or upsets. Conditions were not as rough as older miners were telling the younger recruits in the homelands. Compound life had become easier. Older miners were speaking of over crowded hostels with up to 40 packed to a room. Concrete bunks were not provided with any sort of matrasses and mostly miners had to sleep on card board sheets. At Hartebeesfontein the bunks were still concrete slabs, but foam rubber matrasses were provided by the mine. Each room had 24 bunks: six piled one on the other on each wall. In the middle of the room was a coal stove with a chimney going through the roof. This provided some heat and a place to gather around for indabas to be held or discuss experiences down the mine during the day.

     The only time that was available for relaxing was on Sundays. Saturday’s were half day’s work and mostly spent doing shopping in nearby Stilfontein to buy clothes, and also do shopping for additional provisions like meat. Some of the miners would go out to the nearby informal settlements but mostly those from the homelands considered their stay on the mines a temporary sojourn and stayed in the hostels visiting and entertaining one another.
     Much the same comforts or discomforts existed in the hostel at Vaal Reefs. The town of Orkney was closer by than Stilfontein and thus a regular stop for buying of clothes and provisions.
     Once more, when Ukuluyake started at Vaal Reefs mine he was processed through a training centre at number 2 shaft. He found himself upgraded and received training as an electricity powered loco driver. While not as hard work as pipefitting, it was stressful as great care had to be taken with a loco drawing a number of hoppers from the stoping areas to the main tips close to the shaft. And at both ends there were hazards to deal with. Uncoupling his hoppers from the loco and drawing a stretcher on a specially made trolley for miners injured at the working faces occurred quite often. And at the shaft end of his perilous journeys the main ore passes presented dangers and potential fatal accidents.
     One of these shaft accidents he remembers as a very close shave. He was at the end of his shift. He stood in the queue to get to surface in the three decker lift shafts, “cages”. Each deck could take 50 persons. As the three decks filled up he stood number seven in line to wait for the next cage to disgorge its passengers on surface and return. But it never did return as there was what is called an “overwind” and the cage plus people got snapped into the headgear of the shaft. Fortunately the rope was disconnected from the cage and got wedged by a safety mechanism so that it did not plunge 2000 meters down the shaft killing all inside it. But with the sudden snapping of the cage in the safety gear in the head gear there were quite a few fatalities all the same. Such accidents used to be regular in those days. And besides, in the bad old days they were hardly ever reported.

     Ukuluyake started his first contract on Vaal Reefs in the first month of 1983. He recalls the beginning of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) in the same year. The leaders that presented themselves in the early years were not miners, but judging by where they as rich businessmen, were opportunists who were making careers for themselves. Ramaphosa is singled out. The NUM as it was first established had considerable difficulties in gaining the confidence of the mine workers. They were looked at as pawns of the management for the simple reason that first dialogue was between these union professionals and mine management. Ukuluyake immediately adds that this is understandable because access to the hostels (or “compounds”) were strictly controlled.
     There were a number of smaller strikes that took place at random mines and for the most part there were no material gains made other than that mine workers lost their jobs.
     In 1986 Ukuluyake was seriously injured. Water was running out of the hanging wall and caused a short circuit in the electric cable driving his loco. He was badly burnt and when taken out of the mine given up for dead. He was immediately rushed to Klerksdorp Hospital where he stayed for 8 days before he regained consciousness. After this it took him months to convalesce. For weeks his face was deformed. The wounds from the shock took many more months to heal and to this day he still has problems with them.  
     Not long after he was back on the job at Vaal Reefs the NUM showed a solid fist of workers will. Through all the smaller victories and challenges, worker power escalated and by 1987 there was a huge strike which brought the entire gold mining industry to its knees. Salaries and working conditions were improved. Many of the more offensive working conditions like single men’s compounds were condemned and free stranding housing built for families. But this did not mean that a great many workers did not lose their jobs. Ukuluyake himself was one of these.
     During the course of the strike the bosses brought in scab labour. They drew mainly on local unemployed workers. At the conclusion of the strike the mine owners, who had won a “concession” from the union that all those in employ, especially the scab labourers, would not be made redundant. But promises were not kept. Ukuluyake and 2000 of his comrade workers told to pack all their belongings in their compound rooms and further told to convene on the Oppenheimer sports field. There they were told that they were all “fired” and had to return home. They were given tickets to return home by rail, and cash pay out of R 600. In many cases this R 600 did not even cover wages outstanding to them. No papers were given, no statements on their status with the provident fund, no records of services were provided. After some resistance they were taken out of the hostels under duress by the mine security personnel.
     Once back in Duncan Village, Ukuluyake on numerous occasions approached TEBA to regain his job on the mines. But this was in vain, he had been blacklisted. He found work at Milllers in King Williamstown. He had developed loco driving as a skill and found that this came in handy as a forklift driver. 


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Biography Ex-miner Elliot Ntukuse


Scenery Park Marshal
May 2011 / Nr.3
Marshal Newsletters under the auspices JEC
Contact: Vuyo Puti @
073 408 3858
 CONTENTS:
Biography Elliot Ntukuse pages 1 – 2
Beware of the Crooks 3
Chamber of Mines in offensive against Concourt ruling  3   
Elliot’s health and safety issues 4
Government steps to “help” ex-miners         4

1.      Biography Elliot Ntukuse

Elliot Ntukuse came to hear of regular ex-mine worker meetings taking place in Nxaruni. As the issue of ex-miners has been in the news, he needed to hear what the fuss was all about. Compensation for ex-mineworkers has always been an issue, but the recent Constitutional Court (Concourt) ruling caused a lot of talking among ex-mineworkers. The Concourt opened the way for ex-mineworkers to sue their previous bosses directly for compensation, for phthisis and injuries caused working underground in dusty places, mainly in the gold mines. Amounts for compensation being bandied about are up to R 2 – 3 million.

     Elliot was born in Chalumna in 1957. His father and his family moved to Mdantsane when he was a teenager.

     The attraction of Mdantsane was powerful for the many people living in villages in the rural Ciskei. It was close to East London for shopping, while jobs and schooling became more accessible.

Western Platinum

     The young Elliot saw no benefit of easier jobs in the “border industries” surrounding Mdantsane and East London. He did achieve relatively well at school with a Grade 8 (then Std. 6) education level. Having grade eight was no mean achievement given the sacrifices and the difficulties to continue his schooling. This could have made getting a reasonable job easier than for most.

     On the question why he went to find work on the mines, his answer is short and sweet: “I wanted a job. Mdantsane, which Apartheid had planned, was an expensive farce: a dormitory for workers who had to travel far every day not only for work, but to do shopping”. Mdantsane became a sleeping place for the so-called “border industries” in and around East London. Nothing more, nothing less, but schooling and other job opportunities made the difference. “The mines provided an easier life for youngsters. I got everything provided: food, accommodation and especially not having to pay for travelling to get to work. Travelling for Mdantsane residents working in the Border industries robbed them of most of their wages. On the mines I could save and by balance was much better off than taking a job with whites in East London”.

     Elliot’s first job were 6 months contracts at Western Platinum Mine, 1975/’77. He was 19 years old. “The long hours of hard work were tiring. A six day workweek made time pass by quick. The six months I signed on for were over before I realized it.” 

     Western Platinum Mines is close to Rustenburg. Elliot thought this was a good choice: he was made aware by returning miners that the older gold mines, especially in the Johannesburg area, were not as attractive as the newer platinum mines near Rustenburg. The gold mines were more dangerous by far and the conditions of accommodation in the hostels (compounds) were primitive. Workers often had to sleep in over-crowded rooms, mostly as many as 40 to a room, on concrete slab bunks. Having a hot water shower was an exception reserved for white miners and the privileged few black clerks.

     When Elliot started working at Western Platinum Mine every thing was still new. The mine started up a few years before he joined. Before the 1970’s platinum mining was not yet an option as demand for the metal only kicked in with the needs of the motor car industry in the 1970s.  Being more modern, the owners of the platinum mines no longer thought of their investment as playing in “kaffir circuses”, (a phrase, which was brought to discussion at some of the Nxaruni meetings, was used by rich money lenders overseas). Conditions for labour were at the bottom of their list of priorities. With the emergence of trade unions in the 1970s conditions became less primitive.

     After the mid seventies, when Elliot started work on the mines, there was some improvement in conditions. Times were changing. The unions exerted pressure on mine owners. Mine companies found that they had to change their labour practices. But behind this new awareness of the owners who started preaching “social responsibilities” with money freely dished out for “community involvement” was a constant effort to undermine the legitimacy of trade unions at the expense of workers.  

     Rather than the concrete slabs provided as beds in the old gold mines, at Western Platinum Elliot had a bed to sleep on. In the morning after pap and a chunk of bread he had a hot shower before going down the mine. When he came up from underground, he had a hot shower and after some time relaxing was tired, ready sleep and for the next day’s work.

  St. Helena Gold Mine

     Finding work on the platinum mines was not easy as mine bosses preferred to take local workers. And besides, most workers preferred working on the platinum mines rather than the gold mines of the Witwatersrand. Competition to get work on the Platinum mines was strong. So Elliot had to accept his next contracts at St. Helena Gold Mines, between 1983 and 1987.

     At St. Helena he found that what he had heard from home coming miners about the quality of life on the gold mines checked. “We were constantly being chased to ‘increase production’. As a team leader placing ventilation pipes we had to work hard to keep up with the pace of development of tunnels. We had to keep fresh air at the faces of these tunnels to within 30 – 40 feet. Where I worked was not only deep (and hot as hell!), but extensive mining meant long hours of walking to get to work places”.

     When Elliot started at St. Helena there was no trade union. At first mine workers often thought the unions were a “trick” by mine bosses to appease them.  But as unions became more visible and accepted by workers, bosses became aggressive and caused a lot of trouble for the unions and workers aloike. 

     “The year 1987 was tumultuous. Entry points to the compounds were controlled by the mine security people. There was strict control; it felt like we were in a concentration camp. Often the South African Police were called in when the mine security people could not keep control. Then in 1987, before the National Union of Mineworkers, established a few years earlier on, and led the Great Strike of that year, a massive faction fight between Xhosas and Sotho broke out at St. Helena compounds. After many blood thirsty confrontations egged on by the mine security people, we Xhosas were given train tickets, paid R 600 and sent home. 

     “Times rapidly changed since then. The NUM strike of 1987 hit hard at the labour system on the mines. In fact it struck at a cornerstone of Apartheid. Three years later, South Africa itself changed, and four more years later South Africa had its first democratic elections 1994. After I was sent home from St Helena I was actively involved in Anti Apartheid activities and was a marshal in my street committee”.

     I got married for the first time in 1993. Times were difficult and in the turmoil township residents were in violent protest. I also kept having problems with my knee, due to the accident on St Helena Mine. This still bugs me. My wife is very talented and runs a sewing business in which we both participate.  

2.      BEWARE THE CROOKS!

     The good news about the Concourt ruling on compensation for mine workers suffering from lung diseases, spread fast, far and wide. But the concluding message at the last meeting of ex-miners at Nxaruni was for caution and vigilance.

     It is usual that when poor people stand to benefit, like with the Concourt ruling, crooks and opportunists will line up to take what they can get for themselves. And not only that: big money draws big schemers. As there are large sums of money to be released on an individual basis, one can expect that the mine bosses are going to resist every step of the way through the courts.  

     In the Concourt ruling there are also loopholes that crooks can exploit. Most ex-miners can be bluffed that this huge amount of compensation money (like R 2.6 million) is instantly available if they can prove that they have silicosis. This is not the case! What the Concourt says is that ex-mineworkers can sue through the High Courts. This can take maybe five or more years. 

     According to the law lung examinations should take place once every two years. This never happens. And even if there are examinations compensation is still a far way off. Skelms can therefore come to the ex-miners with a promise that they will take care of this process, get the medical done and access the compensation. But at the same time they will “charge a fee”, as we know a fee to do exactly nothing! Such a down payment is as small as R 50, but mostly as large as R 500 or even R 1,000. Many ex-miners have already been duped and therefore all must be very wary when people who have no formal credentials, come along making a hollow and totally empty promise.    

     Getting compensation is not going to be easy. The mine bosses are already arguing for a “deal” between them and the government to pay what in their view is “reasonable and fair”.

     Ex-miners must be alert and not fall into the trap of these liars who only want to take money for nothing. The best way to prevent this is that ex-miners speak and meet regularly with one another. Only proper information which is reliable and correct can provide protection. We can in any case expect that things are going to move fast. The unions fortunately are becoming aware of the problems as well. The General Secretary of NUM has recently announced that there will be an information campaign to prevent high jacking of the compensation process, or the benefits of individual ex-mine workers.

     There is an “ex-mineworkers union” based in Umthatha and which is represented on the government parliamentary committee for ex-mineworkers. This needs to be interrogated and bona fides checked out with COSATU.


3.      CHAMBER OF MINES IS ON THE OFFENSIVE!
     Just like the mine veterans were discussing at their last meeting! It is not just the crooks and matshonisas that need to be watched out for, but other stakeholders who will attempt to make deals that undermine the interests of the ex-miners.
     Our first port of call should be NUM. Remember NUM membership since 1983 probably has many mine workers who are still members, who still work on the mines, and obviously they will be adequately catered for.
     A recent article published in the Engineering Weekly, mine bosses have made clear that the numbers of ex-mineworkers and the amounts they are liable for, are “exaggerated”. Or as they put it, the sum total of what the mines are liable for are “off the board”.   Obviously they are going to try to minimise their losses at the expense of active mine workers, but definitely at the expense of ex-mineworkers.  Therefore the Chamber wants a “quick deal” with the government to come to what suits them best. Remember, the government has its back to the wall as mine companies can also threaten to cut jobs and “pull out our investments”! AngloGold Ashanti wants such a deal with the government “in months”. In other words they want to by-pass the legal process altogether to work out a deal by arm twisting the government. Fortunately workers are aware of these antics!
     Eighteen former miners are suing for compensation in the High Courts and the National Union of Mineworkers has resolved to assist miners in their compensation claims. The ruling of the Constitutional Court of South Africa in favour of Thembekile Mankayi opens the door to thousands of other silicosis sufferers to sue South African mining companies.
     NOTE: The biggest challenge at the moment is simply this: an information campaign to build maximum awareness on the compensation claims and ways and means to add pressure to achieve our demands !!

4.     Health and Safety Issues
      Elliot is healthy with the same zest for life that he took with him to the mines.  He cannot recall any proper medical examination excepting before he went to Western Platinum. He had an extensive medical in Johannesburg and was found fit to work underground. While working at St. Helena he broke his knee in rugby. He was hospitalised and paid R 800 compensation.

5.      Government Steps Being Taken To Address Ex Mineworker Grievances:

11th May, 2010:

The Office of the Chief Whip of the Majority Party welcomes the commitment by the department of labour to speedily resolve the plight of ex-mine workers protesting over the non payment of employment benefits.
The department, which is represented in the inter-governmental task team set up to look into the problems of ex-mine workers, on Monday attended a meeting in East London, Eastern Cape, called by the Portfolio Committee on Labour.
During the meeting, the task team, led by labour department DG Jimmy Manyi, made an undertaking to amongst other things, keep the ex workers updated on the processes meant to resolve their grievances.
The meeting, which was instigated by the labour committee under the chairpersonship of Lumka Yengeni following complaints that the department and other stakeholders had failed to pay ex-mine workers benefits due to them, also resolved to co-opt representatives of the disgruntled former employees into the task team.
This was meant to ensure transparency in the way the department was handling their grievances.
A group of the ex miners early last week camped outside Parliament with the hope of meeting the President of the country over their grievances. The protesters, who had travelled all the way from the Eastern Cape, were rescued by members of ANC Woodstock branch, Cape Town, after being stranded outside Parliament in cold and rainy weather. The ANC members provided the protesting ex workers, some of whom are old and frail, with blankets and food.
The group will now be represented by one of its members in the task team.
Yengeni, who had attended Monday`s meeting together with the Portfolio Committee on Mining Chairperson Fred Gona, said a report on the grievances of the ex-mine workers will be discussed in the committee.
"We will discuss the report in the committee and recommend further steps to be taken with regards to this matter," she said.
She said one of the main grievances raised by the group that had camped outside Parliament was around the issue of representation in the task team.
"Our assessment is that the facilitation and guidance by the task team was not as effective as it should be “ hence the problem of people going to Parliament."
"As a committee, we were encouraged by the undertaking by the DG that the task team will do everything possible to ensure that the services due to ex-mine workers would be effectively rendered by the department," she said.  
     (It is worrying that two ex-miners were co-opted to represent all ex-miners. The government has failed in its mission to keep all ex-miners properly informed. Certainly this government committee cannot even pretend to have a mandate to negotiate away the interests of the ex-mineworkers with the Chamber of Mines!)