Pensioners demand 13th cheque
The cost of living in South Africa has risen dramatically over the past few months and pensioners who receive state grants are pushing government to offer them a 13th cheque this year.
The KwaZulu-Natal-based Pensioners’ Forum also wants government to review their R1 700 a month pension and consider paying them R8 000 a month.
The forum’s campaign is supported by the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice & Dignity Group – an NGO that monitors food prices and lobbies for better wages.
Government pays 3.4 million old-age pensioners about R5.8 billion a month.
The pensioners cite the VAT increase to 15% and the escalating fuel price, which have contributed to high food prices, as reasons for their demand to receive a bonus this year. They also say that, because of the high unemployment rate, they have to use their meagre pension to take care of their families.
Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice & Dignity Group researcher Julie Smith argued that the bonus was equal to what National Treasury intended to spend as a bail-out for the SA National Roads Agency to cover debts incurred because motorists were not paying their e-toll bills.
“It makes more sense for the money to go directly into South African pockets to help 3 million to 4 million pensioners and their families, and act as an economic stimulus by bringing money into the local economy,” said Smith.
“Due to the recent price increases, millions of families will be in a dire situation when it comes time to send their children to school in January.”
Smith said the pensioners’ struggle was similar to the fight for a living wage.
“If wages are increased to a level of dignity, workers will be able to save for their pensions. When the pensioners worked, they were not paid enough and they could not save,” she said.
Last month, the forum made a presentation to Parliament before Finance Minister Tito Mboweni presented the medium-term budget.
However, National Treasury has indicated that government has no money and it was impossible to give pension increases higher than inflation because of a huge grants bill of R160 billion a year that covers 17.3 million beneficiaries.
In a letter written by Mark Blecher, National Treasury’s chief director for health and social development, to the Pensioners’ Forum, he indicated that pensioners were compensated for price increases linked to the consumer price index.
“Government understands the plight of older persons and the importance of the old-age grant in enhancing livelihoods. Government currently pays grants to 17.3 million people, inclusive of 3.5 million pensioners. This costs more than R160 billion a year,” Blecher wrote.
“The fiscus cannot afford a doubling of the grant, even for a single month, as this would require approximately an additional R6 billion to cover these costs. Similarly, a monthly grant payment of R8 000 is impossible,” he added.
Pensioners say that the constantly increasing price of goods forced them to borrow money from loan sharks to make ends meet.
“We pay funeral insurance, buy food and we’re forced to borrow money. Who can give a child a stone when it’s asking for bread or give it snake when it’s asking for fish?” asked pensioner Fikile Gumede.
Another pensioner, Hilda Mabasa, said: “We have children who have finished school, but cannot find jobs. It would be better if they could. Our only hope now is government.”