Pensioners protest for money owed to them by government

Pensioners protesting outside the GEPF offices in Port Elizabeth. Photo by Joseph Chirume

Pensioners in Port Elizabeth have threatened to boycott the 2019 elections unless the government pay them reparations for working as public servants under exploitative Apartheid and Bantustan regimes.

Port Elizabeth City Hall, Govan Mbeki Avenue, Port Elizabeth Central, Port Elizabeth, South Africa

A group of elderly government pensioners protested in Port Elizabeth on Friday demanding money they claimed the government owes them.

The angry elders said the government in 2011  promised to pay them a lump sum amount as restitution to redress a salary prejudice they endured under successive Apartheid governments.

The pensioners,who are affiliated to the Civil Servants Pensioners Forum gathered in front of the regional offices of the Government Employees Pension Fund (GEPF), adjacent to the City Hall. They sang revolutionary songs demanding that the government fulfill its promise.

They also waved cardboard placards declaring, “ANC, You promised”, “No money, no vote” and “We want our money. “

The angry pensioners also unanimously pledged not to vote for the ANC in the 2019 general election if the money is not paid before then.

The CSPF convener, Iris Sinetile, said in a statement, “There was a  fund made available to redress the Apartheid laws that discriminated against civil servants of colour.”

Sinetile, who was once suspended after falling pregnant while training to become a nurse at Livingstone Hospital, said she is hopeful the government will fulfill its promise.

She said, “The government in 2010 sent a circular to all its institutions promising to redress the issue. This is because many civil servants were underpaid by the Apartheid government. The democratic  government promised to reimburse the previously disadvantaged servants. “

Sinetile said the program was subsequently rolled out throughout the country in 2011.

She said old pensioners at that time braved cold weather while standing in queues registering their names.

Sinetile explained, “Many attempts to get tangible feedback from the government and the Government Employers Pension Fund have failed. The Forum has been sent from pillar to post for over a decade with no information as to when our money would be paid. We are now appealing to all those in the same predicament as ours to protest at the doors of the GEPF until our dignity is back.”

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Pensioners claim that the government has not fulfilled its promise to pay them restitution. Photo by Joseph Chirume

Another pensioner, Linda Makamba said the government’s call could not have come at a better time for her. Also a former nurse, Makamba said the promise of the money evoked a sense of closure after decades of working under abuse at the hands of the Apartheid government.

Makamba worked for more than  30 years as a nurse.

“I started working as a junior nurse for seven years at Cecilia Makiwane hospital, in the former Ciskei homeland. I then transferred to Dora Nginza hospital in Port Elizabeth. The government told me to apply as a new entrant because I was coming from a homeland, meaning I had to forfeit the seven years I worked at Makiwane hospital. I eventually started afresh and worked for 27 years as a nurse at Dora Nginza before I retired in 2011,” she said.

Makamba said she worked wholeheartedly. She said she went the extra mile in her quest to fulfill her passion in nursing.

She said, “Unfortunately, we were never appreciated by the system of government. We gave our best under harsh conditions. We were undermined and paid peanuts.”

“We received a SMS in 2016 from government informing us that the money would be paid. This ignited our hopes. However, that was the last communication we got. We are absolutely angry that the government is ignoring us in a project they instigated themselves,” she added.

Makamba, who lives with her children and grandchildren in Port Elizabeth, decried her current pension which she said was just a slap in her face while she is failing to pay her debts.

“At present I am struggling to pay SARS an amount of R30,000 that I inadvertently accrued after my retirement. I got a job at a local TVET college to assist their students to do a course in Primary HealthCare. The debt is draining my energy because there is nowhere I will get that amount. I had hoped to get help from this redress fund,” said Makamba.

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A 76-year old pensioner who declined to provide his name said he worked as a teacher for twenty-two years. Clutching a wooden walking stick, the partially blind grandfather of six said, “We are tired of the  government’s lies. Some of the Forum members have died poor and dejected. Most of our members in the Forum are old and weak. We did not ask for this money but it was the government that started it all. We want Cyril Ramaphosa to come here and address us, otherwise we will not vote for them.”

He lives in Algoa Park with his two children and earns a pension of  R3,800 a month.

Another pensioner, Nomawethu Hole said, “What happened to the billions of rands set aside for the discriminated pensioners? They are driving expensive Mercedes Benzes and BMWs. Some of us stay with our children because we can’t afford to pay a bond.”

The pensioners handed over their memorandum of demands to a representative of the GEPF who promised to pass it over  to his superiors. The memorandum stipulates that a response must be made before the end of July.

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About Joseph Chirume 46 Articles
I was born in the shoe manufacturing town of Gweru in Zimbabwe,1970. I came to South Africa and did some odd jobs before writing for a number of publications. At present I am doing a Masters in Journalism through distance learning.