Miners’ health dominates Swazi migration dialogue

The featured photograph of two miners working underground is sourced from Wikimedia Creative Commons

Working in South Africa mines is difficult. They retrenched me without checking my health status. Just after coming back home I fell sick. It took a long time to be discovered that I was suffering from TB, which was caused by the dust I in-hailed in the mines. I went back to the mine to ask for assistance since I didn’t have money to pay for medication by they rejected me. They said I should go back home. I then went to the then Minister of Labour Lutfo Dlamini. He asked me a few questions about my position during my working days in the mine. He also couldn’t help me. The doctors told me my lungs are now black which shows that a lot of damage has happened. I thank SWAMMIWA for intervening. I met Mrs. Mdluli who registered me. I then met Vama Jele who we deeply talked about the issue and he gave me good advices and hope. Before meeting Jele I have to tell you that I have lost money to an association called Sandla Senkhosi. They promised to help me but only to discover that they are thieves. I was carried to and from RFM because I couldn’t walk on my own due to TB. I didn’t have money to hire a taxi and life was very difficult for me and my family. One of my sisters took me to South African hospitals. I thank God that at least I can walk on my own again though I’m still sick.

This was a submission made by a former mineworker at a National Dialogue on Migration in Swaziland held on the 3-4 August this year by the Consortium on Refugees and Migrants in South Africa (CoRMSA).

The aim of the dialogue was to raise awareness on the Southern African Development Community (SADC) policies on migration, labour, and health. But in Swaziland, where migration to the mines of South Africa is one of the main sources of employment, it was the issue of health that dominated. The overwhelming message heard was that former mine workers, were left discarded, helpless and ill after working for years on mines; work that left them with tuberculosis (TB) and silicosis.

Many former mineworkers have no place to turn for help. Abandoned by their government, employers and unions, it is families and community organisations that are struggling to pick up the pieces. One of these is the Swaziland Migrant Mineworkers Association (SWAMMIWA) whose main mandate is to protect and advocate for the rights of migrant mineworkers, ex-miners and their families.

This is an uphill battle, though. With little guidance from enabling policy, the lack of political will from the mining industry and government, too few resources on the ground, and mounting challenges in mobilising a dispersed and poorly informed group of people, actual progress towards obtaining healthcare, social security and compensation for work-related illness is limited.

A 2017 World Bank report estimates that almost 70% of TB cases go undiagnosed among the 500 000 or so mineworkers currently working in the country. Recent job cuts in the sector also hurt the ability of employees to access care that is provided ‘in-house’ or by companies rather than the state.

Few sources of data are available on those who are no longer working, or who have returned to regional or rural homes. Where public services are even more strained the impact of occupation related illnesses on the mineworkers’ wellbeing, and the ability to seek treatment is even more difficult

The Southern Africa Trust, a regional South Africa based interest group who supported the dialogue in Swaziland reports that ex-mine workers, or their families face numerous hurdles in accessing social security benefits that they contributed to while employed and which further adds to their vulnerability once retired, retrenched, or deceased.

The journey toward inclusive, redressive and effective healthcare in the region is a long one. For now though, the dialogue in Swaziland is a reminder of how deeply South Africa’s extractive mineral industry has hurt the regions people


About Zaheera Jinnah

Zaheera Jinnah has a PhD in anthropology and a background in development studies and social work. Her research interests are in labour migration, gender and diaspora studies. She is a research associate at the ACMS where she teaches, supervises graduate students, and engages in policy and academic research. Her recent publication is the co-edited book (Palgrave) ‘Gender and Mobility in Africa: Borders, Bodies and Boundaries'.