Silicosis: diagnosing the disease beyond the grave

Q(h)ubeka Trust finds way to pay out widow of miner in spite of lack of medical records


This is the second of a three-part series about payouts to miners with silicosis and their families. Illustration: Lisa Nelson

Petros Mpatane* worked on Anglo American’s gold mines for 22 years. He contracted silicosis and was one of more than 4,000 former miners who took their former employers to court to claim compensation for the disease. He died before the court settlement in 2016 without medical records of silicosis. But through the Q(h)ubeka Trust, his family was paid out, using a new model developed by medical experts. His story is told in the report of the Trust.

Petros Mapatane was born in Willowvale in 1954. He went to work on the gold mines at age 19, at Kinross and Blyvoor first, switching to the Free State gold fields managed by Anglo American/AngloGold from 1976. He was at President Brand and then at Western Holdings.

In 1996 Mapatane left the mining industry after 22 years, aged 42. He returned home and married 25-year old Nomsa, in a civil marriage in Willowvale. The Home Affairs marriage certificate showed the same ID number as on the mine work records. Then, in 2010, for unknown reasons, Mapatane obtained a second ID document - in the same name, but with a different ID number and different birth-date: 12 June 1947.

Mapatane signed up with lawyers Leigh Day & Co and Mbuyisa Neale Attorneys, as one of the 4,365 claimants in the court case to demand compensation for silicosis from AngloGold.

The Qubeka court case began and continued for another four years. But Mapatane died in 2013 in Willowvale before the settlement agreement.

In March 2016, Anglo American South Africa and AngloGold Ashanti reached a negotiated settlement “out of court” with the lawyers on behalf of the 4,365 named claimants, which still included the name of the late Mapatane.

The settlement created the Q(h)ubeka Trust. All claimants diagnosed with silicosis by the Trust’s medical assessment panel were eligible for compensation, provided they had two years of qualifying service on a specific list of mines. The list includes the “FreeGold” mines where Mapatane worked underground for 20 years.

The main question now was – did he have silicosis? If he did, his family could be paid by the Trust. Tracing agents appointed by the Q(h)ubeka Trust, located his family in Willowvale. They confirmed that Nomsa was the widow, so she signed all the Trust claim documents.

But there were two problems. First the family did not have any medical records for Mapatane.

Second, his wife made the claim using the ID number printed on her husband’s death certificate. This is totally understandable - but the ID from mine employment and from his initial claim for compensation was the ‘old’ ID.

The Trustees needed to find mine records of his medical history. But the mines said they could not find any medical records. There was no medical information to back up Mapatane’s claim for silicosis compensation.

This was a problem shared by many claimants. By the end of 2019, all the living claimants had been medically assessed, and most had been paid the first tranche (about half) of their compensation. The Trust Deed allowed for the compensation for the families of claimants who had died before they could be medically examined either by the Medical Bureau for Occupational Diseases or by the Trust, provided the Trustees had ‘sufficient evidence’ to believe they had silicosis. The Trustees got medical experts to develop a “predictive model”, based on statistics, to allow medical certification for compensation in cases where there were insufficient medical records available for deceased claimants. This model is an entirely novel development in the field of certification for occupational lung disease compensation.

Using the model, Mpatane was classified as a “qualifying claimant” with “C1(s) - Silicosis with sufficient evidence”.

But his widow’s claim could not be processed because of the problem with ID numbers. The Trust outreach team grappled with the problems of “the deceased claimant with 2 IDs”. The ID number on the death certificate differed from the ID number of the husband on the widow’s marriage certificate - and on all the mine documentation for the claimant.

Nomsa Mapatane signed an affidavit for the Trust at the Willowvale police station, to state that her husband, Petros, was using 2 IDs - “but he was the same person”.

The Trustees agreed to approve the claim, provided that the widow signed “an affidavit that she is the sole dependant of her late husband, Mr Petros Mapatane, [ID ‘new number’] who died on 21-Oct-2013. Once this is submitted, along with a clear, stamped copy of the widow’s bank statement (less than 3 months old), the claim will be approved for payment into that personal account.”

In October 2022, she signed a standard Next of Kin affidavit but this was not what the Trustees requested. The field team was asked to get the exact wording correct - but they were then chasing 100 unpaid claims as the Trust office moved towards closure.

Communications were delayed by loadshedding as the batteries in cell towers failed. And the roads were bad and slow. The employment contracts of the field workers ended on 30 November 2022.

But one of them, Pasika Nontshiza, travelled to see the widow in January 2023. He helped her with the documents and assisted her to open a bank account. She signed an affidavit in mid-January 2023, with the proper words, at the police station in Willowvale.

The verification team could at last pass the claim for payment and in January 2023, Q(h)ubeka Trust paid the two tranches of Petros Mapatane’s compensation award for silicosis into his widow’s personal bank account.

The total compensation payment of R68,974 was made to the widow of a claimant, with 22 years as an underground gold miner, who had no medical records from the mines to prove he had silicosis - and who had died, aged 59 years, before attending the medical examination.

Altogether 453 C1(s) claimants have been awarded R32-million by the Q(h)ubeka Trust, based on its Predictive Model.

None of the C1(s) silicosis claims have been forwarded to government for compensation because the law - the Occupational Diseases in Mines and Works Act- does not recognise claims by the families of deceased mineworkers unless they have been proved to have silicosis by an Medical Bureau for Occupational Diseases medical examination or an autopsy. There is no sign that the government is planning to change the law, and to confront this injustice.

*Not their real names.

This is a shortened and slightly amended version of a chapter in the Q(h)ubeka Trust Report . Tomorrow: The astonishing story of the driller from Lesotho

The Trustees of the Q(h)ubeka Trust, who served from 2016 to 2023, were Sophia Kisting-Cairncross, Chairperson; Goolam Aboobaker; John Doidge and Alicia Kistan.

TOPICS:  Health Mining

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