Pen­sion­ers de­mand 13th cheque

CityPress - - News - SIZWE SAMA YENDE sizwe.yende@city­

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.”

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