Pensioners in lurch

MORE than 70 former Berlin Citrus Farm employees are complaining that 10 years after their retirement, the Department of Agriculture has yet to pay their benefits.

The problem has allegedly affected pensioners aged between 60 and 80 years, most of whom had worked for the Letsitele-based farm outside Tzaneen for many years.

Another problem is that they are unable to apply for government social grants because they were allegedly told that they would forfeit their pension payouts if they applied for social grants.

The workers, mostly from areas such as Zangoma, Mafarana, Mulati and Mariveni in Letsitele, said they worked on projects that were started by the former apartheid government.

The projects were later placed under the curatorship of the current Department of Agriculture after the disintegration of apartheid and the formation of the new government.

Their spokesperson, who is also a member of the South African National Civic Organisation, Gaza Ngobeni, said the problem affected mostly elderly people who went on pension more than 10 years ago.

They had since been struggling to get their pension payouts, he said.

Ngobeni said this happened despite the fact that they contributed to the pension scheme when they were still employed by the department.

Robson Ngobeni's wife, Florah Ngobeni, 79, struggled for 10 years to get her pension payout. She has since passed away.

Ngobeni, 80, said the family had been sent from pillar to post by government officials.

He appealed to the department to intervene and help the pensioners.

Another angry pensioner said: "I was told that I should stop worrying about my pension because it would be included in my monthly social grant."

Several attempts to get comment from Thembi Makhuvele, spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture in the province, were unsuccessful.