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Zim’s ‘Wenera’ miners invited for $400m compensation fund

By Tendai Kamhungira

South African gold producers have asked Zimbabweans who used to work there as mine workers in the 1970s and contracted the fatal lung diseases silicosis and tuberculosis to come forward and benefit from a $400 million compensation fund.

Wenela miners Miners aboard a DC-4 in Francistown in 1952
Wenela miners Miners aboard a DC-4 in Francistown in 1952

This comes after the settlement of a far-reaching class action in South Africa that follows a long legal battle by miners to win compensation for illnesses, they say they contracted over decades because of negligence in health and safety.

The mine workers were not provided with adequate protection during and after apartheid rule ended in 1994, and include Zimbabweans who back home were said to have gone to “Wenera.”

Wenera was the Shona version of the acronym, WNLA, which stands for the Witwatersrand Native Labour Association — the recruiting body of the South African Chamber of Mines.

The companies involved are Harmony Gold, Gold Fields, African Rainbow Minerals, Sibanye-Stillwater, AngloGold Ashanti and Anglo-American South Africa.

The class action suit was launched seven years ago on behalf of miners suffering from silicosis, an incurable disease caused by inhaling silica dust from gold-bearing rocks.

It causes shortness of breath, a persistent cough and chest pains, and also makes people highly susceptible to tuberculosis.

Almost all the claimants are black miners from South Africa and neighbouring countries such as Zimbabwe, who were not provided for but are now being invited to benefit.

In a notice detailing the proposed class settlement, the companies called upon current and former mine workers who have been exposed to silica dust or have contracted silicosis or tuberculosis or their dependants to approach a Trust tasked to deal with processing their claims.

“Six companies, African Rainbow Minerals, Anglo American SA, AngloGold Ashanti, Gold Fields, Harmony, Sibanye-Stillwater and some of their affiliates (the participating gold mining companies) have reached a conditional settlement to pay compensation to eligible gold mine workers and the dependents of such mine workers who have passed away,” the notice reads.

The proposed settlement is subject to certain conditions and must be approved by the High Court when it sits from May 29 to 31, 2019 in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The pay-outs would be processed via Tshiamiso Trust that will be established and would exist for a minimum of 13 years.

“Eligible claimants will be entitled to receive a once-off payment of between R10 000 and R250 000, depending on the nature and seriousness of the disease. In certain exceptional circumstances, this amount may be increased to up to $500 000.

“An eligible claimant is a person who is a member of the classes and who meets the requirements of the Tshiamiso Trust to receive monetary compensation,” the notice further stated.

The eligible claimants have to submit a completed claim form to Tshiamiso Trust, with personal information and employment history.

“The High Court has approved 48 people to be class representatives and they will act on behalf of the classes in the settlement,” the notice reads.

According to the notice, the court will also consider affidavits and written arguments in deciding whether or not to approve the settlement. DailyNews