Batswana Sue SA Finance Minister
More than twenty Botswana citizens who were active in the struggle for liberation against apartheid have dragged the South African government to court in a class action that seeks to overturn the decision by the Special Pension Administration to reject their applications for special pension, amid allegations of fraud, corruption and maladministration of the multibillion Rand Special Pension fund.
Cited as respondents before the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria are; the National Treasury, Minister of Finance Nhlanhla Nene, Special Pensions Appeal Board and the Government Pensions Administration. The Applicants accuse the Administration of administrative bungling, incompetence and conflict of interest.
They will argue that one senior staff member of the National Treasury's special pensions is not a fit and proper person to hold his current position because of his criminal record, after being found guilty of statutory corruption for stealing by servant under the prevention of corruption act and parole infringement.
He reportedly bought a R4 million house while working for the fund under mysterious circumstances even though he does not have the means to do so. Court papers indicate litigants will further argue that Jonathan suffers from conflict of interest because he worked for VENDZULU – a consultancy firm that was previously engaged by the Administration for capacity building.
A confidential report prepared by a task force to sniff out rampant looting and maladministration of the fund reported that a consultancy employ(ed) their own staff under the Special Pensions programme, yet their personnel was paid separately by the Special Pensions, resulting in massive financial gain to the consultancy.
The consulting group also reportedly advertised a critical post, staffed it with unqualified personnel of their choice and trained these employees afterwards to fit the profile of the posts. The finding appears to refer to Jonathan as well because even though he did not meet the specified requirements for the position, he was recruited by the consulting group and later taken for short training tailor made to meet the job profile and competencies for the job.
Millions of Rands have reportedly been looted through massive fraud using ghost beneficiaries and stealing from deserving cases by the staff of the Administration. Batswana applicants who clearly met the requirement for pension suspect they are likely to have been defrauded in the same manner after their applications were approved but the money later diverted.
The Applicants, represented by the Legal Resources Centre, are challenging both the decision of the Special Pension Administration and the Special Pension Appeals Board to reject their applications on the basis amongst others, that their applications were submitted late after the cut-off date of 31 December 2006, failed to provide proof of full time service and further that they should also apply to the Department of Home Affairs to determine their eligibility for South African citizenship.
The Applicants argue to the contrary that the grounds advanced by the administration and the board were fatally flawed, spurious, arbitrary, capricious and failed to take into account relevant factors nor were they rationally connected to the information before the court or the reasons given and therefore were unreasonable because no reasonable person could have arrived at such a decision.
They accuse the Administration of administrative bungling because the reasons to provide full time service are not the true reasons for rejecting their applications and neither were their applications submitted late.
To the contrary, the adjudicators who considered their applications had in fact conceded that there were in full time service and they met the requirement for eligibility for South African citizenship because they were either South African by birth and descent or at one time held South African citizenship.
They want the court to review and set aside the decision not to award them Special Pension as it unfairly dismisses their contribution to the struggle for the liberation of South Africa. The Pensions appeals board’s decision to dismiss the application of the applicants also affects many other citizens of Botswana and Namibia.
They applied for Special Pension in 2006 but their applications were either lost or misplaced by staff at the South African High Commission in Gaborone.
This has been confirmed in an affidavit by the former First Secretary of the Commission Nathaniel Serache who in an affidavit before the court stated that "unfortunately the forms were misplaced by members of staff at the South African Commission in Gaborone where I served as First Secretary while preparing the office where the forms were kept for a new staff member to occupy the office", he further confirmed that the Applicants indeed filled out the Special Pension applications forms that went missing.
While their applications were rejected inter-alia on the grounds that they had not approached the Department of Home Affairs to determine their eligibility for South African citizenship, the applicants dismiss the contention as flawed and baseless because "other Botswana citizens have had their special pension paid, without requiring material proof of their citizenship, and without the requirement of completing the determination of citizenship status."
These include among others, Mrs GMJ Mokgosi of Pitsane in Barolong Farms, David Modikwagae Aphiri of Mochudi, Michael Kitso Dingake of Bobonong, Fish Keitseng of Kanye, and Motsamai Mpho of Maun. However, the applications of many other equally deserving applicants either bona fide SA citizens or those eligible for South African citizenship and with an impeccable track record of having been at the fore-front of the liberation struggle such as that of Frank Ikaneng Modise who was exiled in the UK were rejected.
This is despite the fact that Frank Modise together with Fish Keitseng were MK veterans and together hosted Nelson Mandela in Lobatse in 1962. Modise was co-founder and organizer of the then United Tobacco Workers Union, a former affiliate of COSATU.
He was engaged in full time service for the ANC, played a major role in the Zeerust uprising of the 1950s, coordinated its legal defence and conducted underground operations in support of the detainees of the Zeerust uprisings at the courts in Zeerust, Rustenburg and Pretoria.
He was detained and tortured on many occasions by the apartheid police before fleeing via Botswana to the UK where he continued be central in arranging humanitarian, financial, logistical, and educational opportunities for many South African refugees and the ANC. Modise later passed on in London as a result of complications consistent with the injuries he sustained due to torture at the hands of the apartheid police.
By contrast, Mrs Mokgodi was awarded a service period of 25 years after the Special Pension Administration accepted and was convinced that she was engaged full time in the service of a political organization in terms of Section 1 of the Special Pension Act 69 of 1996.
The Applicants on the other hand maintain they have locus standi to bring the matter before the court because they have exhausted all local remedies and it has become apparent that there is no other reasonable and effective manner in which the challenge can be made particularly since the applicants have tried various political means to obtain clarity as to the procedural fairness, lawfulness and reasonableness of the DHA decision.
The Applicants hope the court will make an order equally applicable to other applicants in a similar position and other potential applicants who might not be part of the court process in the public interest so that their contribution to the struggle is not denied and trampled upon through unlawful administrative action.
They also want the Administration’s decision that Batswana and Namibian Applicants should submit a determination of citizenship to the Department of Home Affairs before the Board could consider their appeals to be reviewed and set aside and declared unlawful. According to them, the delay in bringing the case before the court is an indication of how difficult it can be to challenge the Administration's decision for rejecting their applications for Special Pension.
Most of the applicants do not have the financial means to obtain legal representation since alternative amicable settlements have failed. The court process therefore provided that the only opportunity to challenge the administration’s decision of the Board was by providing evidence in court.
“Other special pension applicants have not had that opportunity and some have passed away and their dependents may not be able to act on their behalf,” they maintain. They fought against apartheid and made real sacrifices towards achievement of South Africa's democracy by risking their personal safety in order to further the cause of freedom and equality in South Africa.
In 2011, Finance Minister Nene was forced to retract his statement following public outcry after he lied to the Parliament standing committee on finance claiming "considerable progress" and that the special pension unit had drastically reduced the backlog for pension applications citing misleading and inflated numbers.
Parliament was informed by Jonathan of many cases of fraud and corruption in the form of fake biographies which were referred to the Special Investment stagnation Unit and the Hawks. A special task force investigation corruption revealed how virtually the whole Bizana community, in the Eastern Cape were defrauded and denied the opportunity to apply for pensions by a syndicate made up of Administration officials who used extortion, selling application forms at R500 each.
The Administration failed to take action against officials involved claiming the syndicate did not defraud the state but applicants despite operating as representatives of the fund. The task force opined that fraudulent activities continued unabated among the Administration personnel but no measures were taken to address the problem.
The Administration officials reportedly frustrated the Hawks investigations by refusing to produce all relevant documents. The criminal syndicate of the administration officials was able to produce fake ID documents, birth certificates, death certificates, marriage certificates and using false bank accounts. At least R1 million was intercepted by the task force before it was transferred into a bank account by the syndicate.
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Malawi appeals for help over Cyclone Freddy at PAP
As of yesterday evening, the death toll from the Cyclone in Malawi had risen from the initially reported 190 to 225 in a short period of time, over 20 000 people have been displaced, and the worst of fears are yet to come as the fatalities continue to mount. This was reported by a Malawi Member of Parliament attending the Pan African Parliament session in Midrand, South Africa, Hon Steven Mikiya.
Mikiya was giving a statement on behalf of Malawi as the ongoing Pan African Parliament in South Africa.
Mikiya said the Cyclone has wreaked the most havoc in our country’s Southern Region. “The Southern Region, has been hardest hit with widespread heavy rains and strong winds. This caused a rapid rise in water levels and subsequent flooding. Meanwhile, power supply has been disrupted, roads blocked off and rendered impassable and mudslides have also been widely reported,” he said.
He made a special appeal to the PAP: “Where I come from, there is a parable which I would like to share with you which says, “mzako weniweni umamudziwa panthawi ya mavuto.” Simply put, a friend in need is a friend indeed or put loosely, a person who helps at a difficult time is a friend you can rely on.”
Mikiya continued: “Yes! Misfortune has knocked on our door and left in its wake a trail of death and destruction that may take years to fully recover from. However, amidst these difficulties, I have every reason to believe that sometimes when you are in a dark place and think you have been buried, you have actually been planted. My belief, Mr. President, arises out of my faith in this gathering and out of the conviction that it is not coincidental that Cyclone Freddy hit Malawi and Mozambique while the delegations of both countries are here.”
According to Mikiya, the level of destruction, the loss of life, property and the decimation of the entire fabric of established communities has been unprecedented. He noted that all this, is coming at a time when Malawi was starting to show signs of recovery from the deadly COVID-19 pandemic that also came hard on the heels of Cyclone Ana and Cyclone Gombe that left a similar trail of devastation and destruction in Malawi and neighbouring countries.
As of Sunday, this week, from the 12th of March, Malawi and Mozambique have been facing the devastating effects of Cyclone Freddy that made a landfall over Mozambique on Saturday the 11th and reached Malawi by Sunday the 12th of March.
The Malawi legislator said he has absolute faith in the Pan African Parliament, which he described as “a league of nations brought together by a shared ancestry, history, identity as well as our beloved continent which we inhabit”.
Meanwhile, Malawi President, Lazarus Chakwera, has declared a State of Disaster in the affected areas effectively appealing for local and international support for the affected families.
Mikiya appealed to the Pan African Parliament drawing “positive” inspiration from Europe which rallied around Turkey after the destructive earthquakes to bring the much-needed relief and humanitarian aid to the people of Turkey.
He said Africa should demonstrate to the world that the African Union and its Organs are not mere talk shows, but effective institutions which stand up when it matters most.
“Alone, it may take us a lifetime to fully recover, but together, in the Pan-Africanist spirit of Ubuntu, our lives and livelihoods will return to a semblance of normality in record time. This is the time to live by our operative mantra, “One Africa, One Voice.” Mikiya concluded.