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22 Sep 2021

Benson Kunchezera, RFI (Malawi)

Malawi: Ex-miners still waiting for their pay checks 33 years after returning from jobs in South Africa

‘For Malawi’s ex-miners, the 33-year wait for their South African wages continues’ 21 September 2021

It has been 33 years since a group of Malawian workers returned from their mining jobs in South Africa - and they're still waiting to be paid. “We are in dire poverty, we failed to educate our children, and now we are old,” John Mizati, Chairperson of the former Chisomo mine workers, told RFI. Malawians flocked to apartheid South Africa between the 1960s and '80s in search of greener pastures and worked in the mines under the Temporary Employment Bureau of Africa (TEBA). This was done under a bilateral agreement with the South African and Malawian governments. In March 1988, the Malawian government withdrew from TEBA because Malawian citizens were discriminated against -- South African employers claimed they were spreading HIV and AIDS in South Africa.

…They vowed to continue protesting until they got their money, said Mizati, adding that the Malawian government should investigate where their money went. They are hoping to meet Malawi President Lazarus Chakwera, to ask for his help. “We understand the previous regimes failed to give us our benefits,” said Mizati. This is not the first protest held by former miners - they took to the streets during previous administrations, too. During his presidential campaign in 2020, Chakwera vowed to resolve the issue of their missing wages. “He should also investigate previous presidents on how they handled our money,” added Mizati. At Chazunda market, some 45km from Blantyre, RFI spoke to another person impacted by the missing wages. Life has been hard for Odeta Donasiyano, 58, a widow, whose husband was one of the Malawian miners who was never paid. Although not a part of the march, she agreed with the sentiments of Mizati and the miners.

…The South African government is complicit in this lost pay issue, according to the former miners. The South Africa Chamber of Mines, now called the South Africa Minerals Council, hired Alexander Forbes, South Africa’s biggest pension funds administrator to take care of the disbursement of the funds to all beneficiaries on the income from mining companies. But a large number of Malawi miner have yet to receive anything…Africa Calling reached out to government officials, who declined to be interviewed, but Malawi’s labour secretary, Dickson Chunga, issued a statement. The Labour Ministry pointed to the Mines 1970 Unclaimed Benefits Preservation Provident Fund, which has verified the existance of 475 Malawian ex-miners. It said they are currently awaiting supporting documents. The statement said that 143 ex-miners have been traced, of which 81 have provided full supporting documentation. Their files have since been submitted to the Provident Fund authorities in South Africa and those miners are waiting to be paid. The number of workers who haven’t been compensated remains vast — some 50,000 ex-miners are without pay, the Chisomo group told Africa Calling podcast. The Labour Ministry earlier this year said that the Malawi government approached the South African government for the first time to intervene on the matter, in order to speed up the process and said it is in constant contact with the Provident Fund Administrators.