Riddle of miners’ missing billions

Billions in the pension rands of blood-and-sweat stained Eastern Cape former miners are making fund managers’ rich, while thousands of broken, sick, old and weary miners and their families live in brutal poverty in rural areas.

THE WAITING GAME: Mxolisi Ngaka, left, an ex-mineworker is still waiting for an industrial pension payout , with his wife Thandiswa at their home in centane. Picture: MICHAEL PINYANA

A Saturday Dispatch investigation has exposed the bizarre reality that many of the more than 80000 ex-mineworkers in the Eastern Cape are stonewalled and denied access to the growth created by their own money in the funds.

While miners scrimp and save to survive, the pension and provident funds are bursting with R40-billion worth of good health.

There are 180000 former mineworkers who have not yet managed to crack the wall of sophisticated financial waffle and labyrinth-like maze of bureaucracy and official inertia which stands in their way of claiming their rightful share of their pension savings.

The R40-billion is sitting with privately-managed pension funds run by fund administrators.

Vigorous attempts since last month by Saturday Dispatch to get the response of mines and entities seen on the miners’ documents drew no responses.

Dispatch repeatedly called Lorraine, President Steyn, and Eland mines, and e-mailed and called TEBA Limited, Mineworkers Provident Fund. We got no response.

Only AngloPlatinum and government’s Financial Services Board (FSB) responded.

Our investigation revealed that many of the Eastern Cape miners left the mines after the prolonged 1986 miners strike while some were retrenched. Some worked to the end and retired. The one story they all share is they were forced to return home with a pittance in their pocket, some as little as R10.

Eastern Cape mining activist and former mineworker, Mthuthuzeli Bedla, who established the Mqanduli Community Advice Centre to help ex-mineworkers access their money, says that from working with thousands of these men over the last three years, that there were more than 80000 ex-miners who were owed money from the funds.

“ Many are illiterate and do not have access to media platforms.”

This week, the Financial Service Board added to the picture by releasing the following information:

lSixty percent of unclaimed benefits in occupational funds are owed to former employees who were members of the retirement funds created by the mining, motor, metal and engineering private sector.

lOccupational funds were nursing assets worth R34.7-billion but of the 3339780 members of these funds, a startling 82% of the assets remained “unclaimed”; and

lUnclaimed benefit funds with 870757 members have amassed assets worth R7.6-billion,

FSB’s head of pensions enforcement and surveillance, Corlia Buitendag, said: “The Financial Services Board (FSB) is aware of unclaimed benefits that belong to former mineworkers.

“The FSB requested all retirement funds to provide information regarding the unclaimed benefits held in their fund for the purposes of establishing an unclaimed benefit database which has been active on our website and through other channels from August 1.

“This included funds established for the benefit of mineworkers.

“There are approximately 180000 beneficiaries based on the audited annual financial statements for the major mining funds submitted to our office,” Buitendag said.

Amplats Group Provident Fund (AGPF) confirmed there were miners who had not claimed their money.

AngloAmerican’s media manager in the Platinum sector, Mpumi Sithole, said they had undertaken a number of campaigns targeting the Eastern Cape in the past six months. He said Amplats used regional and community radio stations and other means to get the message to ex-mineworkers.

“We have established contact with a total of 1922 beneficiaries while over 180 have been paid and approximately 436 have been successfully traced and are ready to be paid,” Sithole said. But many illiterate ex-mineworkers who have been trying to get their money say they have been victims of unscrupulous agencies who claimed to be fighting for them.

“The registrar is aware of various unscrupulous operators who persuade members of the public to pay them an amount to trace their money,” Buitendag said.

“These are often empty promises and there is absolutely no guarantee that the person paying that amount is due any money.”

FSB said they welcomed any additional initiatives that highlighted, created awareness and assisted potential claimants to access unclaimed benefits.

Many of the ex-mineworkers who spoke to the Saturday Dispatch blamed labour recruitment agency TEBA Ltd and the privately-run Mineworkers Provident Fund for failing to assist them.

Daily calls for a week to the fund’s offices in Queenstown and Mthatha rang unanswered.

Questions were sent to these entities and numerous attempts were made to get a comment, but there was no response at the time of writing.

Saturday Dispatch put out the word in the rural areas and scores of mineworkers came out to tell their story about how they felt cheated and discarded.

In Willowvale, a miner who took part in a strike in 1985, Peter Ndyambothi, 72, said: “I got nothing, I returned home with R10 in my pocket. I had to sell my cattle to survive these years.”

Nosipho Thunzana from Willowvale, whose father died in 1987 in the mines, said she has knocked at every office but could not get any help.

“When my father died, after 30 years in the mines, we only received his body in a cheap coffin and not more than R7000 in cash.”

lAll showed documentary proof that they worked in mines in the Free State, Carltonville and Rustenburg. Most are gold and platinum mines. — bonganif@dispatch.co.za

lMore reports and pictures, pages 6 and 7

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