Queues of pensioners register for the court action and make a contribution towards the legal costs.
The Venda Pension Fund saga is heading for the courts, and some 24 000 pensioners are pinning their hopes on Advocate Jaap Cilliers to help them settle a score that has now been dragging on for more than 20 years.
When the former Venda homeland was officially reintegrated into South Africa in the early 1990s, the government pension fund also had to migrate to a new “owner”. The Venda Pension Fund was then amalgamated with the First Privatisation Scheme, and a bit later the Government Employees Pension Fund was formed. At the time, thousands of government employees opted for their money to be paid out.
In 1993, roughly R800 million was paid out to members, but an equal amount was apparently reinvested with brokers and pension schemes. The former pension fund members believe that between R828 million and R1 billion of the funds was withheld during the amalgamation process. The withholding of funds was a result of the formulas used at the time to calculate payments, and possible maladministration.
The disgruntled former members of the fund initially banded together and even started an own political party in 1998, the Dabalorivhuwa Patriotic Front (DPF). Their pleas for compensation, however, were ignored for many years. Even the Public Protector (PP) at the time, Selby Bagwa, was asked to investigate the matter.
In November 2011, the PP, who was Thuli Madonsela at that stage, released her report on the maladministration of the Venda Pension Fund. In the report, Madonsela found that the government had mishandled the privatisation of the Venda Pension Fund and that the complainants had been prejudiced by the maladministration.
Madonsela’s report led to the establishment of a task team consisting of officials from the office of the PP, the Department of Public Service and Administration, National Treasury and the Government Pension Administration Agency (GPAA). The team had to investigate the claims and verify the information of the claimants.
Not much seemed to happen after this and the issue gathered dust on the desks of various officials. The issue eventually ended up on the desk of the new PP, Advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane. In her “Special Report” she directed Lungisa Fuzile, the director general of finance, to submit an action plan on remedial action to be taken.
Mkhwebane’s report tried to address certain fears expressed, among others that payment of compensation in this matter would open up a floodgate of claims by former state employees. “The remedial action in [the 2011 report] was designed to address maladministration that is demonstrably unfair and unreasonable in the specific set of circumstances of this matter,” it said.
The special report said only genuine, credible complainants identified in the report would have any chance of approval. The consolidated list of complainants estimated the number at approximately 7 000, many of whom are “penniless, relying on old-age grants, while a number had already passed on”, said the report.
On Friday, 1 September 2017, the reply from the Minister of Finance to the recommendations in the Special Report was tabled and the matter was referred to the Standing Committee on Finance for consideration, as well as to the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services. The then Minister of Finance, Malusi Gigaba, issued a statement saying that they intended to resolve the payment of pensions by the end of November 2017.
In December 2017, Treasury said it was working together with the GPAA to address the remedial action. The GPAA embarked on a process of reviewing available data, saying that this was necessary to ensure that the project would be implemented accurately. Treasury also enlisted the services of an actuary in an attempt to establish a reliable database of potential beneficiaries of the proposed remedial action.
Early in August this year, Treasury announced that the actuarial firm appointed to verify potential beneficiaries had handed over its final report. “National Treasury is currently reviewing the report to develop recommendations on the next best course of action. Once this is done, Treasury is obliged to submit its recommendations and the report by the actuarial firm to the Public Protector and Speaker of the National Assembly.”
Treasury said it would provide an update on the matter before the end of August 2018. Since then, an uncomfortable silence has existed.
For the past month, former members of the Venda Pension Fund have been gathering and collecting funds to take the matter to court. They act under the auspices of the Vhembe Concerned Pensioner’s Group (VCPG).
Mr Tshimangadzo Tshiololi, who is the chairperson of the group, said it had been a long and winding road and that many had fallen on the way. “Until now, nothing has been done and we are already in November of another year. Our members are plodding on without reaping the fruits of their labour,” he said.
Tshiololi said that they were left with no other option but to approach the Constitutional Court to force the government to implement the remedial actions proposed by the PP. The forum members instructed Erwee Attorneys from Musina to fight on their behalf. “Erwee is working with Senior Counsel Advocate Jaap Cilliers, a well-known advocate who helped over 60 000 Transnet pension beneficiaries get their pensions. We are very confident that government will pay this time,” Tshiololi said.
Beneficiaries have been queuing since last week at the 2010 Centre in Thohoyandou to contribute to the fund to be used to pay the lawyer. At the time of our going to print, more than half of the 24 000 beneficiaries had contributed to the fund.
Tshiololi added that they had exhausted all available avenues and were left with only one option, namely to approach the Constitutional Court. He said the last time they spoke to the PP was in October 2018 and that she had promised to be in court as a friend of the court.
“The majority of Venda pensioners are living in abject poverty, depending on social grants. It really hurts to see people dying as paupers, having served the government for a period of 30 to 40 years,” he said.
Date:09 November 2018 - By: Elmon Tshikhudo
Elmon Tshikhudo started off as a photographer. He developed an interest in writing and started submitting articles to local as well as national publications. He became part of the Limpopo Mirror family in 2005 and has since been a familiar name among the newspaper's readers.