Mr President, the old-age pension is an investment, not a burden

Sawubona honourable President Cyril Ramaphosa and Finance Minister Tito Mboweni. 

We are a forum of women pensioners who live in Pietermaritzburg and we are organising with other pensioners locally and nationally to petition for all pensioners to receive a substantial increase on our monthly state old-age grant (currently R1 700) and for a bonus in December equal to double the monthly pension.

We are very worried about our situation as we rely on our old-age grant to care for our families. We feel that you should be worried too, and that government needs to do something to help us.

There are 3.5-million pensioners. Many of us live in families with no employed adult. There are no jobs for our children. Our monthly grant is used to clothe, feed, transport and educate our adult children and grandchildren.

This past year has been so hard. Everything has gone up. Fuel has gone up. Electricity has gone up. The oomalume  who take our grandchildren to school have increased their charge. Masingcwabisane has gone up. Value-added tax has gone up. Food prices have gone up.

The small pension was not enough to absorb the price increases and save a little bit for December.

We have made numerous submissions to the treasury, the finance committee in Parliament and have written many letters to yourselves and the ANC caucus. To date we have not received a response.

You ignored us. You did nothing to help us. Instead, you made it harder because the start of the new school year was brought forward.

When the department of basic education changed the start of the new school year to January 9, it was pensioners who made sure that grandchildren had uniforms, shoes, stationery, books and registration fees. We made sure that oomalume were paid. No other workers were paid in the first week of January. Families relied on us.

Mr President, do you know how much a child’s school shoes cost? Do you know that shoes get lost? That shoes get scuffed on our roads? That children’s feet grow fast and that new shoes must be bought in the year? Do you know how much growing boys and girls eat? How hungry they are? How much they cry?

The cost of ensuring these basic educational resources were paid meant that most of us had almost nothing to eat for three weeks in January.

Mr President, we stand in the queue to collect the old-age grant and then go and stand in the line to borrow money. This debt will follow us all year. If we borrow R100 we must pay R30 every month until we can pay the full R100 back.

We spend all the money in a few hours on food, electricity, transport, education, scholar transport, debt repayments and burial insurance. We come home with nothing. We leave all our money in town.

We make things, but nobody has any money where we live to buy the things we make. We cannot grow our small businesses. We would like to invest in our small businesses. We would like to invest in our homes — to expand our houses and fix the walls when they crumble. To create wealth where we live. But we can’t because we have nothing extra.

We are of the age group that, when we worked, we received the lowest wages, we suffered the worst racial oppression and exploitation in the workplace and did the most horrible types of work. As the new

democracy slowly tried to improve working conditions and wages, most of us in vulnerable jobs did not see great improvements in our wages. We did not earn enough to save for our retirement.

Mr President, we worked our entire lives and contributed to this South Africa we live in today and have now ended up in terrible poverty.

Why are your financial policies so short-sighted? Why do you wrap yourself in fear and conservatism? By pegging the old-age grant at a poverty level you not only keep millions of people in abject misery, but you remove millions of people from being able to participate actively in the economy.

See the old-age grant as an investment into society and the economy, not as a burden on state resources. Make the money work for all of us.

Increasing the pension to a living wage would help us to better support our families and make sure that our children and grandchildren’s futures are much brighter and more stable. It will be good for teachers in classrooms and nurses in clinics. This would be good for government because it would mean that less money would have to be spent in the public health sector. Our children would be able to maximise their education. All this would give South Africa a much stronger economic base as its workforce will be stronger, healthier and better skilled.

Mr President, you are also struggling to create jobs. You know that your 275 000 jobs a year is not even going to touch sides with the 9.7-million people who are unemployed. You need to find a way to put money directly into a lot of people’s pockets so that people can spend and force a recovery in the economy.

Government has a good system to transfer monies into pensioners’ pockets. If you use our pockets, we will be able not only to make sure that the future of South Africa’s children and therefore our economy, education, health, society and political democracy will be on a much more stable footing and positive trajectory but we, with extra money to spend in town and also where we live, will also be able to change the economy around very quickly. We will be able to create work where we live.

We are 3.5-million people with ideas and knowledge and skills, social networks, financial nous, dreams, aspirations, great wisdom, and love for our families and country. We can do wonders with more money in our pockets.

Mr President, we ask that you substantially increase our monthly old-age grant and provide a bonus annually in December equivalent to double the monthly pension.

We ask that you announce this in the State of the Nation address on February 7.

We also ask that you instruct the treasury to budget for the increase and that these budgetary allocations are announced by Minister Mboweni in the 2019 budget speech on February 20.

You are our president. We are the people. South Africa is our country. We have struggled and suffered for so long. We need you to take us, as well as the thousands of people supporting our cause, seriously. We want to be part of a South Africa that is better for all of us and where all of us can be part of society, actively participate in the economy, live to see our children and grandchildren thrive and, before we die, to experience dignity, justice and freedom. — Thina Ogogo, Pietermaritzburg Pensioners Forum

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