Old wenela miners owed millions

Kabelo Dipholo

Moswaanane calls on govt to help old miners get paid

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Francitown West Member of Parliament Ignatious Moswaane has called on the Botswana government to have a clear position on how to help hundreds of Batswana who worked in the South African gold mines.

In 1936 Witwatersrand Native Labour Association (WENELA) set up base in Francistown as a recruiting agency for migrant workers in desperate need of employment in the gold mines of South Africa.

The agency however collapsed in 1974 after a Blantyre bound WENELA plane DC4 Skymaster carrying Malawian miners crashed killing most of the passengers.

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“It was a sad ending to a system that had contributed immensely to the growth of Francistown,” said Julia Mathumo whose father Benjamin Mathumo worked for WENELA as an Administration Secretary.

The 80-year- old Mathumo laments that while other businesses like Haskins paid employment benefits to their staff, those who worked for WENELA were abandoned by their white employers following the collapse of the agency.

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Mathumo paints a sad story of a working force that was denied their dues after working for many years creating wealth for the employer.

“Sadly no one fought in their corner. WENELA just closed and that was it,” she said, her anger and disappointment written all over her face.

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While she appreciates the positive impact that WENELA had in the second city, Mathumo is also of the view that the agency robbed Francistown residents of their independence.

“I’m of the view that WENELA disenfranchised the way Batswana lived. Our parents made traditional beer to pay for school fees. We had what we called tickets (permits), which allowed us to sell but this was taken away from our parents,” cried Mathumo.

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She said if it was not for WENELA, a lot of Batswana could have grown to be biggest entrepreneurs in the region.

“Ratshosa family owned a complex and Mimosa Hotel, and there were three other hotels owned by native Francistowners whose businesses suffered due to the discriminatory legislation passed by the white elite,” she said.


Mathumo said WENELA left a permanent scar in Francistown which includes the forced relocation of blacks.

“Our structures were demolished at no compensation,” she said.

“The biggest tragedy however is that many who worked for WENELA never received any benefits upon its closure and today they’re all wallowing in poverty.” said Mathumo.

“It’s so sad, Botswana was simply a bridge that WENELA used,” she said.

In his remarks MP Moswaane said there’re challenges in trying to help the desperate old miners, who may be owed money by the South African government.

“What is needed is for Botswana to approach the South African government and ask for data to trace our citizens who worked in the gold mines. Southafrica has all the records,” Moswaane said.

The Francistown legislator said he has personally assisted two miners, one in Tonota and another in Molepolole who eventually received their money.

“All that is needed is to make contact. It’s a strenuous process because most of the old miners didn’t have Identification Cards (Omang) nor Postal Address, so tracing them is a big challenge,” he said.

The MP said a radio programme or periodic publication of names of the old miners on the Daily News could help many who have long given up hope.
“Some are sick and should be paid benefits accrued during their service,” he said.

The WENELA situation is not unique to Botswana, in Zimbabwe over 8000 old miners are to be paid their dues in a settlement worth R5billion.

Ex WENELA Miners Association of Zimbabwe’s lawyers received the historic settlement in 2016, after it was approved by the Gauteng High Court last year in July.

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