No compensation for Zimbabwean worker who lost his arm

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Kudzanai Gavaza struggles to survive

Photo of man who lost part of his arm
Kudzanai Gavaza lost part of his arm in a construction accident and has not received any compensation. Photo: Tariro Washinyira

Zimbabwean Kudzanai Gavaza, 43, who lost part of his arm in an accident on the job in 2015, has not received any money from the Workers’ Compensation Fund because his employers apparently failed to register with the fund.

Gavaza and other four Zimbabwean men were hired by Monkomantile Construction to demolish old sheds and extract building material at Nooitgedacht Estate in Stellenbosch.

The company is owned by  Paulosi Gwegweni and Johannes Gerhardus Zeelie.

On 13 August 2015, says Gavaza, he was working on the roof when the wall collapsed, burying him under bricks and beams. When workmates dug him out of the debris covering him, he had cuts on his face, his hand, jaw and nose were broken, and his arm was severed.

“I still can’t believe I survived. The pain was unbearable. If it wasn’t for my God I would have died. My condition was gruesome,” said Gavaza.

Surgeons at Tygerberg hospital tried to sew the severed part back onto his arm but infection set in and the arm was amputated in January this year. Gavaza has been given an artificial arm but he hardly uses it because it is heavy and putting it on is painful.  His own arm has not completely healed; the doctors said it will take him about five years to heal completely.

Gavaza is now disabled and struggling to survive. Before he lost his arm he used to be paid R1,500 every fortnight.

He went to the offices of the Department of Labour in Somerset West and to the National Certificated Fishing and Allied Workers’ Union (NCFAWU) for assistance with compensation.

Mzikayise Mawuwa from the union said NCFAWU was battling to get compensation for Gavaza because his employers were not cooperating but were blaming each other for the incident.

Asked for comment, Zeelie told GroundUp he was not the  company owner but worked as a foreman for  Gwegweni. When contacted for comment, Gwegweni asked to be called 30 minutes later as he was driving. When GroundUp called back, his phone had been switched off and he has not responded to calls or text messages since.

Candidate attorney Grant Arendse of Miller Bosman Le Roux Attorneys said Zeelie had refused to take part in a meeting in Somerset West organised by the union on 10 September 2016. Gwegweni had attended but had denied that he employed Gavaza, though his name  is on the money transfer to Gavaza’s bank account.

Gwegweni claimed Zeelie had told the staff at Helderberg Hospital in Somerset West, where Gavaza was admitted before being transferred to Tygerberg, that Gavaza had been robbed and assaulted.

Arendse said in terms of the Constitution, everyone had the right to fair labour practices, including immigrants illegally in the country.

Officials at the Somerset West labour department confirmed to GroundUp that immigrant workers were entitled to compensation for injuries on duty whether or not they were legally in the country. When GroundUp visited the department, one of the officials, Terence September, said he was not aware of the Gavaza case and would not confirm whether or not the construction company was registered. He said Gavaza should visit the offices with his passport, medical report, and an affidavit stating that the employer had refused to cooperate.

Gavaza said after his discharge from hospital he had gone to see Gwegweni but Gwegweni had refused to let him onto the building site.

Gavaza said he had a wife and children to support in Zimbabwe but employers were not willing to take a disabled person for construction work. He now depended on his sister for survival. She is a domestic worker  with a family of her own to take care of.

“I have become useless. I now live on handouts and might not be able to work again. I do not have any future anymore. The people who had hired me don’t care at all.”-Groundup