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Aged ex-miners march in 30-year old push for benefits

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HELP US—Mughogho (3rd left) presenting a petition to Gondwe

Rabson Kayira, 94, has waited more than 30 years now to have his terminal benefits from the South African government, but his patience has been in vain.

Drained, Friday he attired in heavy cold-breakers and teamed up with fellow nonagenarians, octogenarians and other senior citizens of the Northern Region to show distress through a march heavy with demands inked on a document—called a petition.

The grannies, some of them accompanied by their grandchildren, walked from Katoto Ground to Mzuzu City Council. This is a distance of roughly 2 Kilometres but the march took long, interspersed with 4 breaks as the marchers had to rest.

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Along the way, they sang spiritual songs commonly used during funeral ceremonies evoking God’s guidance on their long-time demand.

Generally, the demonstrations were piteous, as evidenced by sentiments from onlookers. Even the over 50 police officers who accompanied them were meek all the way to the council where their petition was presented.

Leader of the group, Chisulo Milton Mughogho, said 320 ex-miners signed forms in September last year as a prerequisite for the process but the Malawi government is failing to act on the papers.

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Mughogho, who worked four years at a South African mine, said the terminal benefits issue started in 2014 when the government of South Africa, through the Malawi government, announced that at least 50,000 ex- miners would receive their social benefits.

These are ex-miners who were affected 50 years ago when Malawian mine workers in South Africa returned home due to retrenchments or closure of the mines.

Mughogho wondered how the government has gone five years with no attention towards processing their benefits.

Now the ex-miners have given the government 14 days to act on their request.

“We processed the forms according to the set standard by mines’ 1970 unclaimed benefits funds’ office. In September 2021, these forms were sent to relevant officials for forwarding to South Africa’s unclaimed pension fund head office. We understand that only through these forms will our benefits be released after verification. To our surprise, Malawi government through Ministry of Labour is still holding on to our forms,” he said.

Mughogho added that instead of helping the ex-miners to start getting their benefits, the government keeps mixing up figures of the ex-miners who qualify for the terminal benefits.

“They started with 50,000 people in 2014 but the figure reduced to 49,000 in 2016. The figure was further reduced to 15,000. Then, we heard of 475. Now we are hearing only 5 are eligible to receive the benefits in the first phase. We need the Ministry of Labour to come out clear on the eligible figure,” he said.

Receiving the petition, MCC Public Relations Officer Macdonald Gondwe said the ministry had assured them that the forms were already sent to South Africa.

“The ex-miners wanted to hold the demonstrations some two weeks ago and we advised them to wait as we agreed we would assist them in one way or the other. So, we inquired from the Ministry of Labour who told us that the Alexander Forbes forms were already sent to South Africa. However, this petition will still be sent to the ministry and will act as a reminder,” he said.

Minister of Labour Vera Kamtukule acknowledged the delay in the processing of the benefits, but asked the ex-miners to give the ministry some more time.

Kamtukule highlighted that the process does not end at signing the Alexander Forbes forms, as the insurer in South Africa requires a lot.

“We signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the government of South Africa in May this year and we are using this agreement to push the insurance company in South Africa so that some of the things that they are asking from us can be waived and the people be given their money,” he said.

According to the ministry, they received about 570 forms which had to be verified in the country but it is still a problem.

Apparently, only about 81 have been verified.

Malawians worked in South African mines between 1970 and 1989.

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