Parastatal sells loans

Tommy Makoe

Tommy Makoe

Thousands of former Transnet employees who have neglected to pay their home loans now risk being evicted.

Last month the parastatal sold its book of 14000 underperforming housing loans to First National Bank. The former employees, mostly unemployed people and pensioners, accuse Transnet of using guerrilla tactics to off-load them on a "ruthless financial institution that will turn a blind eye to their plight".

The workers say most were unfairly fired in the dying days of apartheid or during Transnet's various restructuring exercises.

Transnet chief executive Maria Ramos said: "The book is being sold simply because Transnet is not an authorised financial services provider, nor does it aspire to be one."

The transaction includes all of Transnet's 20000 staff loans, including the 14000 that have not met their payment schedules.

Transnet's average staff housing loan is R130000, which can be paid off over up to 25 years.

FNB's chief executive Michael Jordaan said: "The transaction allowed FNB to make inroads into the lower-income housing market, as well as to develop competencies around instalment sale agreements and rental collections."

Sabelo Dwyili is chairman of the Forum for Former Transnet Employees and is one of the affected workers who took a housing loan through Transnet Housing. He said most of the loans were for low-cost homes in the townships.

Ben Kharejane, another former Transnet employee who has not paid off his home loan, said the sale to FNB defied agreements they had with the parastatal.

"Transnet had agreed not to evict anyone or sell the houses until we had settled issues around the repayment of the outstanding home loans," he said.

"We had also agreed that the parastatal would equip the former employees with skills so that they could repay their loans.

"All former Transnet chief executives and Ramos are aware of these agreements. I have minutes of our meetings to prove it.

"We have always said we want to pay off our loans, but we can only do so if we have a source of income," Kharejane said.

But Kharejane, of Doornkop in Soweto, where many of the homes of present and former workers are, said the company had been bickering over the loan repayments since the 1990s.

"Every time we reached an agreement with them not to evict people, they would come back and evict our members. The forum has stopped the evictions of many families with the help of civic organisations," he said.

In the late 1990s Kharejane and Dwyili joined former Transnet employees at a demonstration in the office of Stella Sigcau when she was Minister of Public Enterprises. They demanded the reinstatement of thousands of employees who they claimed were unfairly dismissed.

"We also wanted the issue of the housing to be dealt with because most of us could not pay back our loans. We told Transnet that each case should be dealt with on its merits.

"It is not that we do not want to pay; we want to pay," he said.

"We have resorted to struggle tactics to stop the evictions. Every time they evicted our members we would go and put them back in the houses."

But a spokesman for FNB, Xolisa Vapi, said the bank had the capacity to deal with the threat.

"Outstanding premiums must be paid back. We are good with collections," Vapi said.

He would not say if defaulters would be evicted, but the former workers fear the bank will be under fewer political constraints.

"This exposes our 14000 members and their families to evictions because most of them cannot pay back their loans. They have already forfeited their pensions to Transnet Housing. The money was taken to repay the bonds," Kharejane said.

Kharejane said their problems started in the 1980s when many employees were fired unfairly because Transnet refused to recognise employees' unions.

"That is why some were told they were not permanently employed after working for more than 20 years," Kharejane said.

"When they were fired they forfeited their pension funds to service their bonds."

Kharejane said most of the former employees took out loans for between R70000 and R90000.

"The arrears have caused the outstanding loans to rocket to more than R130000 a house."

The workers' meagre pensions did little to reduce their loan debts, said Dwyili.

"How can they now pay back these ever-rising debts, because they are unemployed?"

Dwyili said Transnet sold the bonds because it had no capacity to evict former employees.

SACP spokesman Malesela Maleka said any evictions would confirm his party's belief that the transformation of the country's public enterprises was targeted at maximising profits and not at development.

Cosatu spokesman Patrick Craven said the union federation would also oppose evictions.

Transnet spokesman John Dludlu promised on five occasions over two weeks to respond to the claims, but had failed to do so by the time of going to press.