Alan Smith, the principal officer, says data for these old funds is extremely poor, particularly because decades ago all mineworkers were treated as migrants and their employment contracts, along with their pension benefits, were terminated at the end of every year and restarted the next year.
More than 60 percent of them were foreign workers. The funds’ members are, on average, in their 60s, Smith says.
Despite these challenges, over the past two-and-a-half years the funds have traced and paid about 55 percent of the beneficiaries of unclaimed benefits. To do this, they have reconstructed their records using information obtained from labour-recruitment agencies, the Department of Home Affairs, the South Africa Social Security Agency and foreign governments.
The funds also appointed tracing agents who specialise in finding people in foreign countries and in rural and peri-urban areas.
Smith says the fund does not want to transfer to the Guardians Fund benefits that were still unclaimed after every effort to trace the beneficiaries had been exhausted. It would rather the money was used for infrastructure development in the areas from which mineworkers were drawn.
Abie Nyalunga, a freelance tracing agent, says a self-regulatory body for agents who trace retirement fund beneficiaries should be set up.
The good name of tracing agents is being eroded by unscrupulous operators who charge fees to trace beneficiaries.
Debt collectors and telemarketers are entering the market with a view to tracing beneficiaries, but they know nothing about the industry and are “messing it up”, he says.