JOHANNESBURG, May 24 (Reuters) - Around 2.8 billion rand ($215 million) in pension funds, some of it going back to the 1970s, has been uncollected by ex-miners and their families who are entitled to the money, South Africa's Chamber of Mines said on Wednesday.
The mining industry in South Africa is under pressure from the government to deal with "legacy issues" from the apartheid era, when it relied heavily on cheap, migrant labour from rural areas and neighbouring countries.
Unpaid pensions for rural families in such areas, where many households rely on subsistence farming, could be the difference between abject poverty and a more secure lifestyle.
"One of the legacy issues is related to pension funds and the pension fund amounts that are due to ex-mine workers and their families," chamber Chief Executive Roger Baxter told journalists after the organisation's annual general meeting.
"This is where a mine worker left the industry, did not collect his or her pension, and went to the rural areas or neighbouring countries. They have not collected on it and don't know they are entitled to it, or their family if that person has passed on," he said,
Neighbouring countries that have provided labour historically to South Africa's mines include Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique and until the 1970s, Malawi.
Baxter said there was about 4.5 billion rand in uncollected pensions going back but 1.7 billion had now been paid to former miners or their families who had been tracked down and identified.
"We don't control the pension funds, but we have trustees who sit on those pension funds and what we are trying to do as the chamber is to help them in the search for people," he said.
"Workers often worked in multiple operations so you didn't have just one unique reference number to an employee. They would get different reference numbers so there is a bit of complexity to this issue," he said.
$1 = 12.9200 rand Editing by Susan Thomas