A LARGE group of people turned up for the launch of the nationwide campaign to increase old age pensions by 100%, which took place at Tamariskia Town Hall in Swakopmund on Wednesday.
Speaking to a packed hall, Jade McClune of the Senior Citizens and Destitute Children’s Association said the N$600 pension is an insult to the people who built up this country and who are now forced to languish in extreme poverty and a state of perpetual starvation and insecurity in their old age.
A number of speakers confirmed the extremely difficult conditions that the elderly find themselves in as price inflation has steadily eroded their buying power to the extent that most can no longer afford the basic necessities of life, including food and water.
Christiaan Taurob, who leads a group of pensioners at Uis, spoke of the harsh circumstances that old people in the village find themselves in, especially since the closure of the mine at Uis.
“The conditions of the elderly are unbearable,” he said. “We need help and we must stand together to fight for this increase, because N$600 is simply not enough to live from.”
He said many pensioners are also caring for the children of deceased parents. “We are not throwing these small children away, do our best to take care of them, but it is very difficult to keep our heads above water.”
Bob Ziekenoppasser of the Namibia Consumer Lobby cited statistics from the most recent Household Income and Expenditure Survey, noting that by 2011 most pensioners were already living 6 percentage points below the breadline. Pensioners consume the least because they have very little spending power, with an average monthly spend of N$441,58.
The rate of inflation has put many basic necessities, such as foodstuffs and toiletries beyond the reach of the elderly, who simply cannot afford the basics needed to sustain their health and well-being. “These are the people who built up this country. It is unreasonable to expect the elderly to live from N$600 a month,” he said.
Sophie Slinger of Walvis Bay said they had paid taxes to the SA government during most of their working lives, but SA pensioners alone enjoy the benefit as they receive N$1 500 per month.
“Why should we not benefit from the taxes we paid to SA all those years?” she asked.
Jacky Araeb of the DRC Concerned Group spoke about the challenges facing the elderly who have no proper housing, no access to running water and no electricity in the informal settlements.
He related the case of two women, one blind and one disabled, who were in great difficulty because of the lack of support services and called on the community to address these issues.
The meeting set up a pensioners support committee and resolved to persuade the incoming administration of Hage Geingob by moral force to raise the pension this year by at least 100%.
McClune said they expect that their demand will form part of the 2015 budget. He said it is a shame that government would spend N$20 million to cater for 3 000 people on Independence Day, while the majority of people have nothing to celebrate.
“We will prepare for a Day of National Action on 21 March to highlight the plight of the pensioners and the poor. Beyond that, if the much-needed pension increase is not included in the 2015 budget, we will have no choice but to take the government to court for violating the terms of the Constitution,” he said to rapturous applause.
McClune said there are sufficient grounds for a legal challenge to the government’s policy, given that Article 95 (f) of the Namibian Constitution stipulates that the State must ensure ‘that senior citizens are entitled to and do receive a regular pension adequate for the maintenance of a decent standard of living and the enjoyment of social and cultural opportunities.
“Nobody will convince us that N$600 is enough to maintain a decent standard of living,” he said.
* First published in The Namibian on 2015–01–30