Pensioners battle to make ends meet

Pensioners Constance Sohena and her husband Samson in their home in Khayelitsha. The couple gets R3 000, but it is not enough to support them and their children.

With a monthly income of R1 500, Eunice Mase, of Site B, supports her three unemployed children and four grandchildren.

She uses the money to cover all her household expenses, including electricity, groceries and clothing.

She also uses some of the money to pay for school fees, uniforms and burial society costs.

While this might seem unrealistic to many, for Ms Mase it is a fact of life.

With no extra income or support every month, the 69-year-old sits down and carefully works out a budget to meet all her needs, which simply outweighs her government grant.

Ms Mase says the money is finished before it even comes into her hands, especially when she owes the matshonisas (loan sharks).

“We get the money today, the next day we are clasping our hands waiting for the next money,” she said, adding that even though the government continuously increases the grant, it made no difference.

“Things are just getting worse,” said Ms Mase.

Since she started receiving the grant in 2007, she said the family has become bigger, while the money has not increased enough.

“This is putting me under a lot of pressure. My kids are not able to get employment. I cannot even buy clothes for myself because I have to support these children,” she said, pointing to one of the children being breastfed.

“Others are going to come back from school and demand food. In the morning I have to provide lunch boxes for them.”

Ms Mase believes if the government could increase the state pension to between R3 500 and
R4 000 a month, it would go a long way in assisting her to cope with the pressures of life.

“Food alone is very expensive. R1 000 is not enough for it, but we have to use about R1 500 to do everything. Sometimes we do not even get all the money because of illegal deductions,” said Ms Mase.

“The government must give us money. Elderly people are struggling.”

A few streets away, another pensioner, Constance Sohena, 70, and her 90-year-old husband, Samson, use their collective pension money of R3 000 to support their children and grandchildren. They also say the money is not enough.

Ms Sohena said despite putting together a budget, the money simply fails to sustain them for the whole month.

“Within two weeks the money is finished and you have no food. If the government could add at least another R1 000, it would be better, but it won’t be enough,” she said.

Ms Sohena said the biggest part of their problem was unemployed children.

“So we need to do everything, from groceries to funeral policies and fixing broken things in the house. It is very difficult. Or at least the government must provide assistance to unemployed children who have completed matric,” said Ms Sohena.

These pensioners are hoping that on Tuesday January 24, their plight will be heard. They will join hundreds of other pensioners from around Cape Town in a march to the National Assembly at Parliament in Cape Town to try and twist government’s arm into paying them more. The march is being organised by the United Senior Citizens, a movement for elderly people.

David le Roux, convener of the movement, said they were calling on all pensioners to support the march. He said the annual increase they get was simply not enough.

He said they have been holding protests at Parliament since 2015, demanding a “decent” increase.

“The R80 increase that we got last year does not make any difference. How on earth does the government expect us to live on R1 500. It is simply impossible. The cost of living is too high. They must at least give us R3 500,” he said.

Mr Le Roux said South Africa is a rich country, and with its minerals it should be able to sustain everyone, but only a few benefited.

“This is to show the government that we are also in need. This is not just a Western Cape thing,” he said.

Director for Grandmothers Against Poverty and Aids (GAPA), Vivienne Budaza, said the organisation constantly worked with pensioners to capacitate them and reinvent their childhood skills, in the quest to fight poverty. She agreed that the current pension grant was simply not enough and they were looking at ways to register their unhappiness with government besides a protest.

To try and supplement their pension, Gapa trains pensioners in sewing and other skills. “Each item that they sew and is sold they are able to put something on the table,” she said.

Ms Budaza said during an SA Grandmothers Gathering, in Durban, last year, pensioners unanimously agreed to demand more from the government. She said they also decided to exclude political organisations from their protests as they all have interests in Parliament. “Madolo phezulu is not the way to go. The way is to get a seat in Parliament,” she said.

“But we support the need for more.”

Ms Budaza said some of the pensioners feed up to 17 people with their grant, while others attempt to maintain a lavish lifestyle for their children and grandchildren, thus ending up going to matshonisas.

“What we are now doing as Gapa is constantly teaching them to prioritise. When you can’t buy something for your child or grandchild it does not mean you love them less. They must learn that there is time for everything. That is why our grandmothers end up going to matshonisas. Fashion will always be there,” she said.

Ms Budaza said government should seriously consider giving pensioners at least R3 000, though that would still be a drop in the ocean. “No money is enough to sustain them. As professionals we all agree that our own salaries are not enough. How much more for them,” she asked.

Spokesperson for Black Sash, Elroy Paulus, said although they were not fully aware of the details of the march, they understand and support the pensioners’ quest for extra money.

“We note that the grants are inadequate to make ends meet, particularly with rising food prices, etc. We hope that these allocations will be reviewed,” he said. He added that the state old age pension and disability grant was for individuals, but in most cases it supported the entire household.

Mr Paulus said the need for extra cash could only be addressed through political will.

“If there is sufficient political will to address the real priorities in South Africa, money and resources will be found progressively to make human rights real. The resources in any budget needs to be carefully balanced. Social assistance has a very significant allocation for it, though there is a need to provide enough resources for those in need, given the state of the poverty, unemployment and inequality in South Africa,” he said.