The Q(h)ubeka Trust has, since its establishment in 2016, paid out about R134-million in compensation to qualifying former mineworkers, who are suffering from silicosis.
The compensation paid to date represents a first payment to claimants, after which a further distribution will be made once all claimants have been medically assessed.
Q(h)ubeka Trust was established with the specific purpose of distributing a R395-million settlement with Anglo American South Africa and AngloGold Ashanti.
The claimants in the settlement are 4 365 former mineworkers from South Africa, Swaziland and Lesotho who may be suffering from silica-related occupational lung diseases as a result of the failure by the mines to prevent workers’ exposure to silica dust.
This case, the trust said in a release on Wednesday, is separate from the class action against various South African mining companies that was settled in May and for which the mining companies have set aside a collective R5.2-billion.
Meanwhile, the R134-million, which was awarded to qualifying claimants as at August 1 this year, is a huge achievement, said Dr Sophia Kisting-Cairncross, particularly given the numerous challenges that the trustees had encountered.
Partnering with local healthcare service providers to perform the medical assessments at the start of each claims process, was aimed at bringing services closer to the claimants as well as contributing to the upskilling of healthcare professionals in the diagnosis of occupational lung diseases, she explained.
“We believe this has not only had a positive impact on our claims process but has also contributed enormously to the level of care provided to [former] miners in these areas. We hope that it will be a lasting legacy that will also be beneficial to the bigger class action settlement trust and for public health as a whole”.
To date, about 3 160 of the 4 365 claimants have been referred for medical assessments. Over half of those assessed have been determined to be suffering from silicosis.
About half of the outstanding claims are of deceased claimants, the majority of whom had passed away before the establishment of the trust.
Owing to the lack of medical records, it would be more difficult to determine whether the deceased had silicosis, Kisting-Cairncross pointed out.
The trustees are, however, exploring many different possibilities to obtain whatever medical information may be stored with different entities, she said.
According to Kisting-Cairncross, this lack of medical records is one of the most significant challenges facing the trust.
The trustees are also currently working with several specialists on pioneering work to develop an instrument to confirm the presence of silicosis in the absence of medical records, she stated.
“We cannot fail our widows and the families of the mineworkers who have suffered tremendously by their loss,” she emphasised.
Other significant hurdles the trustees continue to face in determining compensation eligibility is establishing that claimants worked for at least two years at Anglo American South Africa and AngloGold Ashanti mines.
Employment record keeping by the mines has generally been very poor for this group of miners, she lamented, which significantly complicated this step of the process.
In terms of the trust deed which sets out the claims criteria, the trust has until April 2019 to complete the medical assessments of all claimants.
Despite the various challenges, Kisting-Cairncross remains positive that the work being done by the Q(h)ubeka Trust in achieving compensation for former mineworkers with silicosis will be completed within the timelines stipulated in the trust deed.
“We believe passionately in the importance of the work we are doing and we are absolutely determined to see all qualifying claimants, and the families of deceased qualifying claimants, compensated for their illnesses,” Kisting-Cairncross concluded, adding that “while we know that money can never restore these claimants to full health, or return the deceased claimants to their loved ones, the compensation will contribute towards helping them with medical bills and perhaps contribute to enjoying a better quality of life”.
The work of the trust extends beyond achieving compensation in terms of this settlement agreement to assisting claimants apply for statutory benefits under the Occupational Diseases in Mines and Works Act, thereby securing potential additional compensation.
To date, the trust has submitted 351 applications to the Medical Bureau for Occupational Diseases.
A further 600 applications are being prepared for submission by October.