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The pension struggle

Old age should be a time of peace and joy — time to stop work and stay at home, having tea with the neighbours and watching the little ones at play. But for many black people in South Africa, getting old seems to bring more worries and troubles than ever before.

Pensions are one of the problems that brings the most heartache. Even in old age, black people cannot get away from the government’s apartheid laws. Black pensioners get much less pension money than white pensioners - white pensioners get R100 more.

White pensioners get their pension money every month. Black pensioners only get their pension every two months. Black pensioners sometimes wait a year after they apply for their pension. White pensioners only wait three months.

Government pensions in South Africa are not fair or equal — and even worse, it’s often a big struggle for black pensioners to get their pensions — money that is their right and that the government owes them.

One day, when apartheid is dead and buried, all pensioners will get the same pension. A pension that is a living pension. A pension that is much higher than even the R250 pension whites get now. A pension that will allow all our old people to live in comfort and security.


A pension is money that you get when you are old and you cannot work anymore. There are two kinds of pensions.

There are private pension funds. These are run by some companies. Every month, you pay a small part of your wage into the pension fund. The company also pays money into the fund for you. When you retire, you will get pension money from this fund.

Social old age pensions are government pensions. Government pensions are not a present from the government. They come from the taxes that people pay. The law says that every old person can get a government pension if they do not have money. This article talks about government pensions.


To get a government pension, you must be a South African citizen or a permanent resident of South Africa. To get a pension in Ciskei, Transkei, Venda and Bophutatswana, you must be a citizen or perma­nent resident of that ‘independent homeland’.

If you are a South African citizen, your ID book has 08 as the 11th number. If you are a permanent resident of South Africa, your ID book has 18 as the 11th number.

Men of 65 years and women of 60 years can get a pension. Blind people of 19 years and disabled people of 16 years can also get a pension.


To get a pension, you must make a written application. When you fill in your form, ask for a receipt of your application. This will help you if you have any problems later.

Each province has a Provincial Adminis­tration and Regional offices where you can go to make an application. So, for example, if you live in the Orange Free State, you can go to the OFS Provincial Administration or the Regional Office that is closest to where you live. (Usually, the old Bantu Commissioner’s office is now an office of the Provincial Administration.) If there is no Regional Centre near your home or if you live in a small town or village, you can make an application at the nearest Magistrate’s Court.

If you are too ill or too old to make the application, you can ask the Department of Pensions to send a social worker to your house and you can make the application from your house.

The social worker must agree that you are too old or too ill to make the application or to collect your pension money. The social worker will visit you every six months and sign a Survival Certificate that says that you are still alive.

Then you must give someone Power of Attorney. This is usually someone in your family. The person with Power of Attorney can sign forms for you and can collect your pension money for you.


After you make an application, there is a long wait. For black people, the wait can be as long as six months or more. White people wait only three months for their first payment. Sometimes, you will get a letter telling you that you can collect your pension. But, if you do not hear anything after three months, you must go to the pension pay out every month or check your bank or building society account to see if your money is there.

If your money is still not there after three months, you must take action. You can write to the Pension Officer at the Provincial Administration in your province, giving your pension number. Or you can go to an advice office or a lawyer. If there is no lawyer where you live, you can write to Lawyers for Human Rights for help. (Their address is at the end of this article.) Or you can write to the Minister for Health and Population, again always giving your pension number. (The address is at the end of this article.) But do not make another application.

Pension money is only paid out from the date of application. So, for example, if you apply for your pension when you are 65 and three months, you will only get money from the date of application. You will lose three months of pension money.

It is important to make the application as soon as you are the correct age — 65 for men, 60 for women. If you are older than that when you make the application, you will get a little extra money. But the longer you wait, the more you lose.


You need to take your ID book with you. If you are a citizen of an ‘independent homeland’, you need your passport. If you have lost your ID book or you have not got one, take your reference book.

Sometimes, clerks send away people with only reference books. The clerk does not have the right to do this. The clerk must accept your application but he can also tell you to apply for an ID. If the clerk refuses your application, you can go to an advice centre for help.


The ID book and passport give your age. Reference books do not give your age. If you only have a reference book, try to take some other certificate which gives your date of birth, like a birth certificate, a baptism certificate or a marriage certificate.

Many people have problems proving that they are the right age to apply for a pension.

Sometimes, they do not have the right book or certificate to prove it. And sometimes the date of birth in the book is not correct.

If you know that your age is wrong in your documents or you do not have any document which gives your age, you can ask the Pension officer to send you to a doctor. He will send you to a doctor or the District Surgeon for a medical examination.

The doctor will examine you and try to tell how old you are. The doctor will then make an affidavit at a police station or magistrate’s court. In the affidavit, the doctor will say how old you are.

Some doctors have refused to give medical examinations. If this happens, go to the District Surgeon. The pensions office can tell you where to find the District Surgeon. Or you can go to an advice office.


The government allows white people to collect their pension money at the Post Office. But not black people.

So, there are two ways of getting your pension money. You can go to a pension pay out point or you can have the money put into a savings account at a bank or building society. The bank account or building society is the safest way but it is not easy for people in rural areas.

The queues at pension pay out points are often long and it is very tiring. Often, the pension pay out point is far away from your home. Sometimes, the pay out office hasn’t got enough money for all the pensioners. Some people have been robbed or have not been given the right amount.

If you have a bank account, the money goes straight into your account. It is a much safer way of getting your pension money.

Most banks ask for very little money to open an account if you are a pensioner. At Allied Building Society, Nedbank and United Building Society you don’t need any money to open an account. At First National you need 5 cents. At SA Perm and Standard Bank you need 50 cents. When you open your bank or building society account, make sure you tell the bank clerk that you are a pensioner. You can take money out of your account whenever you want. There is no charge. When you make an application for your pension, take your bank account number with you.


Black pensioners are paid out every two months. White, Indian and ‘coloured’ pensioners get paid their money every month. The government says that maybe it will start paying black pensioners every month. In Bophuhtatswana, Ciskei, Venda and Transkei, pensions are also paid out every two months. The pension you get depends on your income. Income is any money you get besides your pension.

In 1989, the most a pensioner can get is:

South Africa African: R150.00 per month Coloured: R199.70 per month Indian: R199.70 per month White: R250.00 per month Bophuthatswana R117.00 per month Transkei R103.50 per month Venda R110.00 per month Ciskei R117.00 per month

  1. If you are over 85 or you are very old and need someone to look after you, you get an extra R16.00 a month.

  2. A war veteran gets a pension of R532.00 in South Africa and the ‘independent homelands’. But the South African government is refusing to pay war pensions people who are not living in South Africa. About 70 000 war pen­sioners are not getting their pensions. The SA Legion is negotiating with the government so that war veterans get their pensions wherever they are living. If you are a war veteran, you can contact the SA Legion. (The address is at the end of this story.)


  1. If you have a room in your house that you are renting, the money you get from the rent is income.

  2. If you own land, it counts as income.

  3. If your husband or wife works, the Pension Officer divides the wage by two and works out the income. For example, if you are a 60 year old woman and your husband is still working and getting R300 a month, your income will be R150.

  4. If you belong to a private pension fund, the money you get from it is income.

  5. If you are a man over 70 or a woman over 65 and you are still working, the money you earn is not income.

Here are some examples of the 1989 Pension Scales for black pensions in South Africa:

If your income per month is: from You will get this much pension: R0.00 to R36.00 R150.00 R36.01 – R45.00 R148.00-R141.00 R45.01 – R60.00 R140.00-R125.00 R60.01 – R75.00 R124.00-R110.00 R75.01 – R90.00 R109.00-R95.00 R90.01 -R105.00 R94.00- R80.00 R105.01-R115.00 R79.00- R70.00 R115.01 and over no pension

Remember that pensions are paid every two months. So, for example, if your income is between R91.00 and R105.00 every month, you will get between R94.00 and R80.00 every month (R188.00 to R160.00 every two months).


If someone in your family is getting a pension and they die, you must tell the Pensions Officer at the Provincial Admin­istration or the Regional Administration. But, you still get the pension money of the person who died until the end of the month.

So, if a member of your family dies on any day between the 1st of the month or on the 31st, you must still get their pension money for that month. This money is to help pay for the funeral.


The Black Sash Advice Offices see many people who need help with pension problems. They wrote a report about the problems that many people have. Here are some examples:

  1. At the Rent Offices of some townships, like Soweto, rent money has been deducted from pension money. It is against the law to take money from the pension for rent.

  2. At pay out points, there are sometimes not enough clerks. Sometimes, clerks are drunk. There are also complaints that clerks are asking for money so that people can get ahead in the queue.

  3. Some pensioners are told they must open bank accounts before they make their application for a pension and to come back in two or three months. This means that they lose two or three months pension money. A pensioner does not have to have a bank account. The clerk cannot stop a person from making an application because they do not have a bank account. Pensioners have a right to make an application as soon as they are the right age.

  4. Some pensioners complain that they have to pay their chief money so that he will help them get their pension.

  5. In some of the ‘independent homelands’ there is not enough money to pay all the pensioners. And in Lebowa, the government says that there are not enough funds to pay pensions. But if you are the right age, you must still apply. The government says it will backpay all pensioners when there are funds. If you have a problem with your pension, you must take action.


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