2020-07-20

New laws around R48bn unclaimed pension benefits expected to be finalised in 2021

The National Treasury has prepared important new legislation to make it easier to distribute and access the R48bn in unclaimed benefits tied up in pension funds. But potential beneficiaries will probably have to wait until 2021 to see what the proposals entail.


The National Treasury has prepared an amendment bill in terms of which it is proposing to Parliament amendments to various financial sector laws, including the Pension Funds Act. 

It announced in February it planned to centralise unclaimed benefits in a single fund and establish a central registry of all members. Unfortunately, the draft omnibus bill has not yet been published for comment and now it has reportedly been put “on hold”.

Parliament is limiting the number of bills it will consider this year, taking into account the difficulties associated with its operations during the Covid-19 pandemic. So, apart from some paperwork shuffling, not much more is expected to transpire around unleashing the R48-billion in unclaimed benefit holdings this year.

As announced in the Budget Review in February, the draft bill includes a proposal to amend the Pension Funds Act to provide for the establishment of a national unclaimed benefits fund under the control of the Financial Services Conduct Authority (FSCA).

The Treasury said at the time that the current fragmented system of unclaimed benefit funds is ineffective when it comes to finding people.

In addition, money in a centralised fund containing all unclaimed benefits could be used to invest in infrastructure until it is claimed, it said.

Retirement funds are sometimes unable to trace beneficiaries, resulting in the money remaining unclaimed for long periods and usually being transferred to privately run benefit funds. Insiders told Business Maverick that experience and research have shown that close to 25% of beneficiaries won’t ever be traced.

Rather than remaining “dead capital”, the government has indicated that these investments are being considered for the mobilisation of funding for infrastructure. It was planning to introduce legislation in 2020 to centralise such unclaimed benefit funds and establish a central registry of all unclaimed benefit members, but this seems unlikely to happen this year.  

Business Maverick asked Ismail Momoniat, head of tax and financial sector policy, what substantive changes are being proposed in the omnibus bill.

Momoniat said the plan around unclaimed benefits is nothing new as it was announced in the minister of finance’s Budget speech, but with Covid-19 much of the follow-through of those announcements made in February has been placed on a “slower path”.

“We have been focusing on other amendments like tax legislation to assist with government’s response to the crisis,” he said. 

With the focus on Covid-19, he says that the retirement reform proposals will probably only be made available for public comment next year and that he does not expect any significant announcements to be made in the  Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement in October in this regard either.

“Making changes to pension funds legislation takes time, as it affects long-term investments,”  he added. “It can’t be rushed.”

“Other challenges in establishing the combined fund is that it is tied up in many different structures that need to be unlocked with hard legislation and appropriate and individual fund rules amendments that need to be approved by the FSCA. 

“A lot of people will challenge it, for sure. We are also talking about other people’s money, so it will have to be handled with care.”

As far as can be established, the unclaimed benefit billions only include funds held in private hands and not those which fall under the Government Employees Pension Fund. The GEPF is subject to its own piece of legislation. According to the GEPF’s annual report for the financial year to March 2019, an amount of R1.7-billion in unclaimed benefits remains on their books.


2020-06-17

Countless South Africans are owed pension benefits, and yet claiming is a constant battle

While few immediately associate youth issues with pensions, the reality is that many young people actively participate in and even depend on the pensions industry. This includes their participation in the ongoing struggle of millions to access more than R42-billion in pension benefits owed to individuals and families.

Young people interact with the pensions industry in various ways. Some in formal employment already contribute to a pension or benefit fund or are considering which fund to choose. Those counted among South Africa’s spiralling youth unemployment figures (now at 53.18%) might never have considered a pension, but they will surely need it if they are to escape poverty. Then there are the many children being raised by their grandparents whose only source of income is their pension. 

But there is another group. The young people who are actively trying to secure the unpaid pension benefits of parents, grandparents or relatives who have been failed by the pensions industry. Whichever way you slice it, pensions are an intergenerational issue, making the misdeeds of the pensions industry as much a youth justice issue as they are a geriatric one.

In November 2019, Open Secrets released its investigative report The Bottom Line: Who Profits from Unpaid Pensions? The investigation catalogues the cancellation of over 6,000 pension funds in both flawed and unlawful ways. Hundreds of these funds had still not paid out their members. The Bottom Line implicates private fund administrators and the regulator – the Financial Sector Conduct Authority (FSCA) – in failing to fulfil their legal duties during the cancellations scheme and avoiding accountability in the fall-out.

Beyond the cancellations scheme, there are billions in unpaid benefits that remain in active funds. These include dedicated ‘unclaimed benefits funds’ set up by fund administrators to preserve the benefits until their beneficiaries are found and paid. Fund administrators and asset managers continue to earn fees from these assets. Yet administrators, fund trustees and the regulator – despite having significant resources – have not done enough to ensure that these funds are paid out.

The cover of ‘Look Beyond the Bottom Line’.

The Bottom Line was accompanied by a booklet, Look Beyond the Bottom Line, which tells the stories of pensioners and other beneficiaries from the Unpaid Benefits Campaign and the Cape Town Ex-Mineworkers Forum. Their stories highlight how an unscrupulous industry – including former employers, fund trustees and fund administrators – has dragged them from pillar to post with little consideration for their plight. 

Many of the people we spoke to live in dire poverty. They explained how receiving their benefits would allow them to fix their homes, feed their families and retire with dignity. Many of them were grandparents and the primary caretakers of grandchildren who they support on the measly state pension. During the interviews, some of these children played outside or sat next to their grandparents as they relayed their stories.

We also spoke to Tshidiso who, at 36, was the youngest of our interviewees. Tshidiso and his family are looking for the benefits owed from the 20 years that his grandmother, Anastasia, worked as a cleaner for the Telephone Manufacturers of South Africa (TEMSA). Unfortunately, Anastasia passed away in 2007 and it was only in 2012 that her family discovered she might have been owed benefits. 

Tshidiso’s grandmother, Anastasia. (Photo supplied)

Anastasia, like many people then and now, did not have a clear understanding of the deductions on her payslip or the pensions industry in general. There is a systemic problem in how employers, pension funds and their administrators fail to communicate clearly to employees about their benefits and associated rights. 

Tshidiso’s family was only alerted to the issue of his grandmother’s potential benefits through talk of surplus payments for those who had worked at TEMSA in their neighbourhood of KwaThema. Surplus assets are the difference between what a fund owes its members and the market value of the assets it holds; it can, on occasion, be paid to the fund members in addition to their main benefit. 

Tshidiso’s family went to inquire about this at the offices of the Metal Industries Benefit Funds Administrators (MIBFA). They were told his grandmother did not qualify because the surplus only became payable in 2008, a year after she passed away. Despite being heartbroken by the arbitrariness of this decision, they have continued to look for Anastasia’s main pension benefits as they still qualify to receive it as her beneficiaries. 

Tshidiso’s family is poor and unable to secure adequate health care for his disabled mother and aunt. Tshidiso couldn’t finish his degree at the University of Johannesburg because his family couldn’t afford to continue paying his fees. He has since struggled to find work. 

Tshidiso’s story mirrors that of many young South Africans who are forced to drop out of university due to a lack of finances and an ever-expanding youth unemployment rate. Even with financial assistance, only 34% of financial aid students graduate from university. Moreover, many students are in debt to universities, collectively owing them millions of rands. Some debts date as far back as the 1980s. Many indebted students are refused access to their degrees or diplomas despite completing their education, leaving them unable to secure work to help them pay off the loans. 

For Tshidiso, the financial barrier to obtaining his higher education degree could be eliminated by his family receiving his grandmother’s benefits. He would be able to finish his final year at university and stand a far higher chance of getting a job. His family would also be able to get proper care for Tshidiso’s mother and aunt. 

Poverty is cyclical. Poor people experience barriers to education and basic services, meaning that their children are unlikely to progress out of the social class they are born into. 

Tshidiso’s story embodies the multi-layered and intergenerational effects of exclusionary systems. To hunt down his grandmother’s pension, his family uses her ID document and a photo of her receiving a long-time service award from TEMSA. They do not have her payslips or any other record of her employment. Just the framed photo. In the photo, Anastasia is shaking the hand of a white man at an awkward distance – a familiar symbol not of the Covid-19 era, but of racial segregation.

After months of listening to people relate the horrors of working in harsh conditions for little pay during the apartheid era, the image of Anastasia receiving that certificate – and hearing of her family’s contemporary struggles – brought home the magnitude of the impact of racialised labour and the maladministration of the pensions industry.

When speaking to ex-mineworkers, many of our interviewees revealed that they used their ‘Blue Cards’ from the mines, or their passbooks, to prove their work record. Just like the passbook or dompas, the photo of Anastasia’s long-time “service” award is a symbol of the exploitative aspects of apartheid. The fact that many black people are forced to rely on these symbols to access their rights in a post-apartheid South Africa highlights the continued socio-economic exclusion of black people. 

Poverty is cyclical. Poor people experience barriers to education and basic services, meaning that their children are unlikely to progress out of the social class they are born into. 

The payment of Anastasia’s benefits will not fix our deeply unequal society, but it would be the first step towards economic justice for Tshidiso and her family. It would help her grandson in his attempts to break the generational chains of poverty and help him provide for his own son, who is dependent on two unemployed parents and the state child support grant.

It is thus incumbent on regulators and pension fund administrators to reinstate cancelled pension funds and work to trace the millions who are owed unpaid benefits, as well as build systems that are responsive to those trying to access their benefits. This includes families like Tshidiso’s. While many in the pensions industry are from the private sector, they fulfil a social welfare role and profit from doing so. It is imperative they play their part in correcting years of profiteering off the misery of the poor, and are held accountable where they fail. There are millions whose lives and futures depend on it. 


https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2020-06-16-countless-south-africans-are-owed-pension-benefits-and-yet-claiming-is-a-constant-battle/#gsc.tab=0

2020-06-15

Happy youth day

The youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow. (Nelson Mandela)

2020-01-16

Retirement fund billions unclaimed

Billions of rands remain unclaimed in Metropolitan coffers and they are dying to pay them out to the beneficiaries, Consumer Line has discovered.
If you have ever taken out a retirement policy and cancelled it without claiming, that money is still yours and you are entitled to claim it.
More than 4.5 million South Africans have R42bn in unclaimed retirement savings and insurance policy benefits, as reported by unclaimedbenefit.co.za.
Consumer line only spoke to Metropolitan so far.
To help solve this problem, Metropolitan will be embarking on a national roadshow to reach out to communities to reunite unclaimed benefits with the rightful beneficiaries.
Metropolitan's head of Life Event Solutions, Deidre Wolmarans, said over the last four years Metropolitan has traced beneficiaries and paid out more than R1.5bn in unclaimed benefits.
The remaining R40.5bn is owed to clients of other insurance companies, Wolmarans said.
She said over the last three years, more than 26,000 claimants were paid out.
Metropolitan is now calling on all South Africans who are unsure whether they may have benefits due to them or to their family members to get in touch, she said.
"The legislated definition of unclaimed benefits is a benefit that has not been paid to or claimed by a member within 24 months from the date it became due for payment or claiming," she said.
Explaining how the R40bn had accumulated, Wolmarans said unclaimed benefits can occur for several reasons, for example, the contact details on record may be incorrect or beneficiaries may not be aware of the benefits due to them.
"Other reasons could include poor record keeping by funds or administrators, or simply because members of retirement funds are uninformed about their withdrawal benefits if they resign, are dismissed or retrenched and are unsure how to claim their benefits," she said.

Insurers and their clients do not always stay in regular contact with each other as circumstances or addresses change. Metropolitan has been working extremely hard to update its client information to ensure it can reach and engage with clients, said Wolmarans.
"While most insurers are trying to trace beneficiaries, the process is slow and more needs to be done."
She said Metropolitan has fixed some of the root causes that lead to unclaimed benefits.
Wolmarans said the insurer's claims process takes a more proactive approach to the settling of claims, which means the insurer contributes less to the unclaimed benefits landscape.
"To make the process even easier for clients, Metropolitan will launch a national Know Your Insurance Matters Roadshow early in 2020," she said.
Wolmarans said the campaign will focus on helping clients to be better educated and empowered on unclaimed benefits and valid claims.
"A team of benefits experts will visit communities across South Africa where they will check if members have any unclaimed benefits owed to them."
Wolmarans said Metropolitan's mission to pay unclaimed benefits is one of several initiatives to help the financial services company get closer to its customers.


She said Metropolitan's dedication to reuniting unclaimed benefits with the rightful beneficiaries is further proof of the insurer's customer-centric focus and yet another reason why Metropolitan has been named a leading supplier of life insurance for four consecutive years by the South African Customer Satisfaction Index (SA-csi).
It was also voted top company in the long-term insurance industry for service excellence in the Ask Afrika Orange Index for two consecutive years.
Until the Metropolitan Know Your Insurance Matters roadshow visits a town near you, it is still possible to find out if you have unclaimed benefits.
Here's how to do it:
Ask your financial adviser to check your ID number or the ID number of your family member with any financial services provider you have had a policy with in the past.
If a family member has died, you can check if they may have unclaimed benefits accrued to them from any financial services provider.
Make an effort to update your contact details on a regular basis, especially when those details change.
To check whether you are due any unclaimed benefits at Metropolitan, please call 0860-724-724, email unclaimed@metropolitan.co.za or fill in your details on the company website https://www.metropolitan.co.za/unclaimed-benefits/
If you discover that you do have unclaimed benefits, it is important to get solid financial advice on what to do with the money. Most insurers can direct you to financial advisers who are equipped to assist clients with advice on where best to invest their unclaimed benefits.
Unclaimed benefits for all South African financial services companies can also be sourced via the FSCA websitehttps://www.fsca.co.za/Customers/ Pages/Unclaimed-Benefits.aspx.

Good news for 70 pensioners who track down R650,000 in unclaimed pensions

“This may seem small compared to the billions of unclaimed assets, but it is always nice to see a direct impact”

Photo of money
Billions of rands in unclaimed benefits are sitting in trade union pension funds. Archive photo: Ashraf Hendricks
It’s nice to share good news every now and again. Late last year we published two stories (here and here) on R42 billion in unclaimed pensions owed to more than four million workers going back decades – and the sluggish response of the fund administrators in tracking down the beneficiaries of these funds. We included a link to the free search engine operated by Benefits Exchange which allowed more than 70 readers to track down over R650,000 in unclaimed benefits.
“This may seem small compared to the billions of unclaimed assets, but it is always nice to see a direct impact,” says Benefits Exchange founder Sean Rossouw.
Interestingly, 38% of the unclaimed benefits identified by Benefits Exchange are administered by the Metal Industry Benefit Fund Administrators (MIBFA), 29% by Alexander Forbes and 12% by Liberty.
A 2019 report by non-profit organisation Open Secrets titled The Bottom Line says the total amount of unclaimed benefits rises to R51 billion if funds falling outside the Pension Funds Act are added.
As we previously reported, there seems to be little serious effort among most administrators to track down beneficiaries of unclaimed pensions. As long as the funds remain unclaimed, the administrators continue to earn hefty fees, year after year.
Most of the unclaimed funds sit with just two trade union-affiliated fund administrators: MIBFA and the Mineworkers Provident Fund Administrators, with R19 billion and R4.3 billion owed respectively.
Part of the problem is poor record-keeping by administrators, such as wrong or missing ID numbers, wrong dates of birth, unknown addresses and the use of initials rather than full names of former workers. But another big problem is the insistence by certain administrators to do beneficiary tracing in-house, rather than using external specialised tracing agents, who have the incentive to maximise trace success rates.
Rossouw says claimants are routinely given the run-around by administrators, especially MIBFA, which has a call centre and invites those who believe they are owed unclaimed pension money to contact it.
“We have an individual who we have been trying to assist with his MIBFA claim for his deceased father’s unclaimed benefit. On two occasions he was advised no benefit was payable and MIBFA does not perform date-of-birth searches, which is a necessity as MIBFA does not have ID numbers for all unclaimed benefits. On the third occasion, after we advised him to try again, a friendlier agent confirmed that there was in fact a benefit payable and that a lot of the agents are either not helpful or do not know the administration system properly. One can only imagine the number of frustrated individuals where this type of incorrect response has resulted in valid unclaimed benefits being denied,” says Rossouw.
Another claimant, Jannie Butler, contacted the MIBFA call centre and was advised that there was no claim matching the details he provided, despite an unclaimed benefit being listed on a database operated by the Financial Sector Conduct Authority. He tried the MIBFA call centre again and this time got a more cooperative agent who advised him that there was indeed an unclaimed benefit listed against his name. A search using the Benefits Exchange search engine showed he had two matches from former employers who contributed to the MIFBA fund: Propower and Dunswart Iron and Steel.
Butler completed the claim form but was advised that he needed to submit missing claim documents. After submitting the requested claim documents, he has been told yet again there is no record of an unclaimed benefit due to him.
Butler has suffered a stroke while in the process of trying to claim his benefits and feels the stress related to the process was partly to blame.
Groundup asked MIFBA for comment but has received no response.

2019-12-15

Ex-miners 'scammed' of silicosis claims

Hundreds of former mineworkers, who have had successful claims in the landmark R5bn silicosis class action, have been duped of some of their monies.
On Wednesday, the Hawks swooped on business premises in Klerksdorp, North West, to conduct a search and seizure operation after hundreds of ex-miners and beneficiaries alleged that they had been swindled of their compensation claims.
According to the ex-miners and beneficiaries, they were approached by individuals from a company which promised to help them fast track their claims following the historic silicosis settlement.
The complainants told investigators that up to 40% of their claims were taken by the company whose name has been withheld until formal charges have been pressed.
North West Hawks spokesperson Capt Tlangelani Rikhotso confirmed that Wednesday's operation was part of an ongoing investigation into claims made by the former miners and their beneficiaries on the discrepancies on their claims.
Rikhotso said no arrests have been made at this stage.

Sources close to the investigation said the company touted and acted as an intermediary for claimants and beneficiaries involved in the silicosis class action.
At least 36 victims have reported to police how they were duped into paying money to companies that promised to fast track their claims.
The intermediaries allegedly colluded with some employees of the Competition Commission of Occupational Diseases by providing them with details of claimants so the company could approach them.
"They would go to claimants and tell them that they could speed up their claims for them without telling them how much they will take from them," said a source.
He said that the number of cases could run into hundreds.
The alleged syndicate companies operated in the North West, Eastern Cape, Western Cape and in Mozambique, targeting former mineworkers and their dependants.
One of the victims of the alleged scam run by the Klerksdorp company, Kelebogile Brown, said an agent of the company took R10,000 from her father's R43,000 payout.
Her father Solly Msimango was a mineworker at the Vaal Reefs Gold Mine in the North West from 1984 until 2006.

"He was retrenched after he was diagnosed with silicosis and he died three years later. We were left poor because he was the breadwinner. Our claim came out and they took more than I thought they would and it was for nothing," Brown said.
Another victim Maki Mabunda, 73, whose son, Ben Mabunda died as a result of silicosis said she was left heartbroken after the company took R60,000 of the R100,000 that was due to her.
"I was approached by one of them [agents] and they said they would help me with getting my son's money. That money was meant to take care of Ben's two children," Mabunda said.
The department of health's spokesperson Forster Mohale said a number of claimants and ex-mineworkers associations have complained about touts harassing beneficiaries.
"The NDOH requested that they lay charges at the SA Police Service or law enforcement agencies. Thus the search and seizure operation by the Hawks is welcomed and shows that perpetrators of fraud against claimants of compensation for occupational lung diseases will not be tolerated," he said.
Tshiamiso Trust, which is responsible for facilitating payments to the beneficiaries, said they were made aware of the fraudulent efforts by individuals and companies. The trust's spokesperson Alan Fine said the fraudulent activities included charging beneficiaries for a number of services.
"These activities include charging for assisting them to register an interest in lodging a claim and charging them a fee to transport them to Johannesburg to do so. We became aware of this through patterns of registrations that we noticed from monitoring the site (https://silicosissettlement.co.za/register)," Fine said.


2019-11-29

Ex-mineworkers dig against the odds for their unpaid pensions

The leaders of an ex-mineworkers association in Khayelitsha have spent the past decade trying to track down the unpaid pension benefits deducted from their wages without their knowledge or consent. While the mining companies sit pretty , ex-mineworkers continue to live hand to mouth with painful memories of a life made invisible. Now, they demand to be seen by a government they feel has betrayed them.

Every Friday for the past decade, Sphiwo William Casiwe has made his way from his home in Khayelitsha to the local activist hub, the Isivivana Centre, for a meeting with fellow ex-mineworkers. He clutches his satchel as he hails taxis and navigates pavements. He rests his hands on the bag’s flap as he waits for the meeting to start.
The bag contains his passbook, issued when he was 17 and headed for the gold mines of Johannesburg. He can never be sure when an opportunity might arise for him to use the passbook’s meticulous employment records to claim his pension benefits.
Casiwe met Bennet Vavi when he joined the ex-mineworkers association in 2008. Since then, the two have become the vice-chairperson and chairperson of the association respectively. Each day, they navigate the web of red tape on behalf of other ex-mineworkers and their dependants to try to claim the money owed to them. Vavi and Casiwe feel their pension might mean they could finally go back to the home they were torn from as teenagers, and rest.
Casiwe recalls regularly arriving home after his 10km from school to find empty plates for supper. Their family home was outside Alice in the Eastern Cape. This worried him deeply, so much so that in 1978 at the age of 15 he left school to become a migrant worker like his father. He felt he needed to help feed his 13 siblings. He waited a year for his passbook to be issued. By the age of 17 he was mining gold in Johannesburg.
Casiwe’s pass book shows a photo of him at 17 years old. Soon, he travelled to the mines in Johannesburg on a contract with TEBA, whose sole purpose was to provide migrant labour to the mines. Today, they hold most of the mine industry’s labour records- but behind a pay gate. (Photo: Christi Nortier)


Casiwe dedicates his time to helping other ex-mineworkers access benefits owed to them, from pension benefits to compensation for injuries. Here he waits before their weekly meeting to get underway in Khayelitsha. (Photo: Christi Nortier)

 “It’s not easy to work underground. You walk on your hands and knees. The mines are like a jail because the things they do is what people do in jails. We were young, and everyone was taking advantage of you,” he says with downcast eyes.
“It’s heavy, but you can’t go back home because you know you are still going to struggle because there is no food. They are struggling, you see.”
He has many of these painful experiences in common with Vavi and other ex-mineworkers.
By the time Vavi was in Grade 4 he knew he wanted to be a farmer. By the time he was 18 he had left school near Queenstown and moved to the Western Cape where he worked odd jobs, from operating machines in Grabouw to making bricks in Strand. Friends told him he would make money for his farm a lot faster if he worked on the mines.
Vavi stands outside the Isivivana Centre with documents in hand in preparation for the association’s weekly meeting. He says he is frustrated that they have the documents showing they are owed money, but no one seems to be able to help them get it paid out. (Photo: Christi Nortier)


He says he thanks God that he knew how to fight before he arrived at the mine on the border between South Africa and Eswatini. He adds that he had to defend himself from abuse, including sexual abuse. Like Casiwe, he considered leaving, but felt it was not a viable option.
“I knew that if I ran away and I came home then people would start undermining me and saying I am weak because I ran away and that if I am a man then I must be strong,” he explains. “We used to manage those conditions, no matter how hard. You must understand, if I ran away people would laugh and say I am weak.”
Casiwe moved to the Western Cape after his accident and worked at a springs factory until he was dismissed in 2014 for protesting against wage differences between black and white workers. He cannot work because a life of hard labour has resulted in several chronic medical conditions. He relies on his wife’s salary.
Vavi too went to the Western Cape after his time on the mines. He was elected a shop steward at the factory he was working at in Epping. During this time he became well versed in pension law and has repeatedly challenged pension funds to claim his benefits – sometimes with small victories.
Both men say they never received compensation for injuries from mining accidents. Vavi’s leg was injured while he was working underground. Casiwe was instructed to work in an area he wasn’t authorised to be in, and that is when the rocky ceiling came down on his back. He was not taken to hospital or compensated; he says the mine turned a blind eye because it was more convenient. The incident made him decide to leave the mines for good.
He was 21 years old at the time.
Both men said that they hardly ever got payslips. They recalled holding bowls into which their wages would be dropped. Often, deductions were made without explanation or their permission. It is that money they now seek.
Currently, the onus is officially on the fund administrators to trace those who are owed benefits. The administrator is a private financial services company which is paid to manage the assets of pension funds and make sure members are kept in the loop and paid their benefits.
Pensioners can try to trace the fund administrator using the Financial Sector Conduct Authority’s (FSCA) unclaimed benefits search engine. Once they find the administrator, they then have to contact them and prove their claim is valid.
If only it were so simple.
Casiwe and Vavi’s benefits form part of the R42-billion owed in unpaid benefits to some 44 million South Africans. This figure is given by the The Bottom Line investigative research report into the South African pension fund industry written by Open Secrets.
They argue that not all the money has been looted, but it will take a concerted effort on the part of the government and private companies to connect with fund members and release it.
Mamello Mosiana and Michael Marchant, two researchers who worked on the report, argue that this process is complicated by the fact that so many people don’t know who to turn to. “It’s not simply through fault of their own, but the fact that the industry is very opaque,” says Marchant.
During the course of their research, they repeatedly encountered people who had visited their administrator but were told that the records do not exist, that the benefits have been paid out (but no proof of payment can be found) or they need to pay to access their own records.
The members know they contributed but haven’t received the benefits, and don’t know who to turn to next.
The apathy of administrators and the FSCA to find fund members is evident in them calling it unclaimed, and not unpaid, benefits despite providing what is essentially a social security service, says Mosiana.
“The reason they call it ‘unclaimed’ is so ridiculous, because the people who are putting in the most effort to find their pensions are actually the pensioners or their beneficiaries and it shouldn’t be on them,” says Mosiana.
“They come with their IDs, their ‘blue cards’ from the mines or their passbooks – they have all the documents and they make the effort, but the regulator is not putting in as much effort as they should be.
“In a country that is so unequal with so many people who can’t really read or access the internet it is ridiculous how much is being put on people who are already poor to do all of this. Even just running around –how many taxis must they take to get from one place to the other?”
Their research has shown them that ex-mineworkers face a particular set of challenges when trying to claim their benefits. On the one hand, their cause seems to be the one given the most attention by government – yet nothing materialises from it.
Many are poor and injured today. Mineworkers described their work as slavery enabled by chiefs and the apartheid government.
The migratory nature of minework means they now live far from the mines they worked at and their former colleagues, making it difficult to communicate using their limited resources. The mines kept precise records in workers’ passbooks, but somehow failed to document pension deductions with the same vigour. They navigate a murky bureaucratic maze where the money, influence and information is not in their hands.
This is the context in which Vavi and Casiwe work. Their association is part of a loose network of ex-mineworkers groups around South Africa and they also have ties to the national Unpaid Benefits Campaign. They are hosted by Workers’ World Media Productions at the Isivivana Centre.
The association mainly engages with government, as they have found the government to be more open than private companies. In the association’s experience, government officials tend to acknowledge that the money is there waiting for them.
However, Vavi says that every time officials change after an election their story vanishes and they have to begin correspondence from the very beginning. They are sent from one official to the next in a maze of documents and permissions.
They are often met with patronising dismissals from officials who are meant to help them. Casiwe says: “Everywhere we go to claim they ask: ‘Yhu tata, what are you going to do with so lot of money?’ All they are offering you is R5,000, which is too little. They think you are blind because you have no school.”
They have both found that this apathy extends to the top tiers of government. They have repeatedly engaged with parliamentary committees, the department of labour, the department of mineral resources and the department of health. They are sent from one to the other, constantly, with very few answers to show for it.
They fear that the money will soon be looted before they can access it.
“They are busy eating that money. You can see all those people in government are on the list of corrupt people… their sons and daughters are driving with big cars,” says Casiwe. “How can you hear that Zuma’s son is a billionaire? How old is that laaitie? When did he work? Where did he work? They are using the money.”
Vavi adds: “Our biggest problem in South Africa is that the political people are blind people. They took us as black and turned us to look at the whites and told us the whites oppress us. But if you can check the South Africa now, the ANC is oppressing the people better than white people.
“We don’t say white people don’t oppress, but ANC is more than them because they say they rule this land up until Jesus come back. Why do they say that, if they hold the people’s money and don’t care about governing this country? They hold the money. The ANC are spread now in pieces and they don’t care as long as they know all the money is in their hands.”
They say they feel abandoned by the trade unions they paid membership fees to all their lives and the lawyers who have tried to dupe them into giving them a slice of their benefits once they receive them.
“We are like a small baby. We have got nothing and no one. No one even thinks that they can and should give us food… This morning I couldn’t even afford a cup of coffee, but I must sit here until 12pm with diabetes. Things like that effect your body and you still have to fight and stress. We are always stressing for our money and it’s not right,” says Casiwe.
They both feel that if they got their pension they could use it to finally return to the Eastern Cape where they would live in peace.
“It’s not nice to sit in a location like us here in Khayelitsha because day and night people are dying in front of you. They shoot each other. When you are old, you need peace. I can go home [to the Eastern Cape] and buy goats and sheep and look after my things if I can get my money. Then I know I can leave this house here for my children. When we were young it was still nice in Cape Town, but not any more,” says Casiwe.
Their migration might yet come to an end. MC.