News South Africa

Ilse de Lange
3 minute read
17 Nov 2018
6:00 am

‘Scandalous’ Transnet ignores pensioners’ plight, ‘holds SA to ransom’

Ilse de Lange

The parastatal is being accused of 'deliberately delaying settling its pensioners' case in the hopes more beneficiaries will die off'.

Former Transnet employees during a march on March 30, 2016 at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, South Africa. Transnet pensioners marched to the Union Buildings to hand over a memorandum of petition to the Presidency, pleading for funding that was promised but never given to them. Picture: Gallo Images

Transnet is putting South Africa’s economy at the risk of instant junk status and forcing itself into bankruptcy by not settling the R100 billion class action instituted against it by Transnet’s impoverished pensioners, according to the Freedom Front.

The company is determined to prolong a 10-year legal battle against 50 000 pensioners.

This despite being offered a settlement by lawyers representing the pensioners, which they believed is affordable for the company and would not place the entire economy at risk.

The pensioners, who are getting more impoverished by the day on an average pension of just R4 000 a month, are heading back to court after their legal team rejected Transnet’s “disappointing” settlement offer as not being in their best interests.

The legal battle is to get the company to honour a 1989 agreement to top up the pensions by 70% of the rate of inflation, plus 2% each year, as was the case in the years prior.

This promise was upheld until 2003 when all but the 2% annual payments were stopped. With inflation running at about 6%, this meant pensioners’ benefits were sliding back at the rate of about 4% a year.

Former Transnet employees during a march on March 30, 2016 at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, South Africa. Picture: Gallo Images

Advocate Anton Alberts of the Freedom Front – which has been assisting the pensioners – said he was convinced Transnet would lose the case as the Constitutional Court dismissed all of its technical objections and ruled that the pensioners had a good chance of success.

By comparison to some of his fellow ex-employees of Transnet, Nick Oelofse is not badly off.

Oelofse said he was one of the few who managed to put money away for his old age, but would have been begging on a street corner by now if it had not been for his savings.

He said he knew of pensioners who were so badly off that they had no money left after paying monthly medical expenses.

Former Transnet employees during a march on March 30, 2016 at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, South Africa. Picture: Gallo Images

Oelofse believed Transnet was deliberately dragging its feet in the hope that more pensioners would die so they would have to pay less, which he said was “scandalous”.

The proposed settlement included:

  • A base uplift of approximately 42% for all pensioners
  • Annual increases of 70% of the consumer price index (CPI); with the percentage increased on a yearly basis subject to affordability
  • A once-off bonus of R20 000
  • Transnet funding the shortfall by way of a “top-up” annually for about nine years
  • The rules of the funds being amended to address not only governance issues, but also the vexed 2% rule.

Alberts said there was “no doubt” Transnet had been delaying the case in the hopes more beneficiaries would “die off”.

“These pensioners have been impoverished. Those who were not impoverished before, are now. They cannot live. A 2% increase per annum from a very low base is nothing. They do get bonuses maybe twice a year but even that is not enough to sustain a decent lifestyle.

“They’re all suffering. And it’s black and white pensioners who helped to create Transnet’s assets who are being left in the lurch.

“Despite all of the promises that were made to them in the past, they’re just being ignored.”

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