Christi Nortier | Maverick Citizen | 29 November 2019 |
Every Friday for the past decade, Sphiwo William Casiwe has made his way from his home in Khayelitsha to the local activist hub, the Isivivana Centre, for a meeting with fellow ex-mineworkers. He clutches his satchel as he hails taxis and navigates pavements. He rests his hands on the bag’s flap as he waits for the meeting to start.
The bag contains his passbook, issued when he was 17 and headed for the gold mines of Johannesburg. He can never be sure when an opportunity might arise for him to use the passbook’s meticulous employment records to claim his pension benefits.
Casiwe met Bennet Vavi when he joined the ex-mineworkers association in 2008. Since then, the two have become the vice-chairperson and chairperson of the association respectively. Each day, they navigate the web of red tape on behalf of other ex-mineworkers and their dependants to try to claim the money owed to them. Vavi and Casiwe feel their pension might mean they could finally go back to the home they were torn from as teenagers, and rest.
Casiwe recalls regularly arriving home after his 10km from school to find empty plates for supper. Their family home was outside Alice in the Eastern Cape. This worried him deeply, so much so that in 1978 at the age of 15 he left school to become a migrant worker like his father. He felt he needed to help feed his 13 siblings. He waited a year for his passbook to be issued. By the age of 17 he was mining gold in Johannesburg.