Pretoria - The High Court in Pretoria on Tuesday reserved judgment in an application by two Transnet pensioners to sanction the institution of a R80 billion class action against the parastatal and their pension funds.
Judgment was expected next week after Judge Ephraim Makgoba reserved judgment in the application by Johan Pretorius and Johan Kruger, who want to launch a class action on behalf of Transnet's 62,000 impoverished pensioners in an attempt to recover close to R80 billion in assets and interest.
He said it was not an easy matter to deal with, but undertook to deliver judgment before Friday next week.
The group has accused Transnet of stripping the Transnet Pension Fund and Transnet Second Defined Benefit Fund (TSBF) of its assets and mismanaging them to such an extent that the funds were unable to meet their obligations to members.
They have also accused Transnet of attempting to dissolve the pension fund.
Increases to pensions have been limited to two percent for close to the past decade, reducing most of the pensioners to poverty.
The court was told that numerous pensioners only received R1 per month.
Currently 80 percent of them earned less than R4000 per month and 62 percent less than R2500 per month.
Most of them were between 70 and 90 years old and could no longer find employment.
The vast majority of them often have to beg for the most basic means and a number of them have committed suicide as a direct result of finding themselves unable to live with dignity.
About 30 percent of the Transnet pensioners are black.
In 2001, Transnet exchanged government bonds worth R7.7 billion which earned the fund R1.2 billion in interest per year for shares in M-Cell which earned no dividends.
The shares were sold in 2006 at a loss to TSBF of over R5.4 billion.
R800 million in surplus funds, created by the reduction of member benefits, were also paid over to Transnet in 2000.
The pension fund, Transnet and the ministers of finance and public enterprises have opposed the application, which they dismissed as being bad in law, of no substance and a waste of time, effort and money.
Counsel for the public enterprises minister argued that the board of trustees of the funds were in a better position to claim on behalf of its members and that the pensioners had not yet exhausted all of their internal remedies.
Advocate Jaap Cilliers SC, who represents the pensioners, said the “heart” of the case was that Transnet managed and controlled the fund.
Transnet appointed four of the trustees and the chairman of the Board while the pensioners only appointed two trustees.
“It is clear who controls this fund. Transnet controls it and then siphons off its assets so that it cannot meet its obligations,” he said.
The fund did not fall under the Pension Fund Act and the board of trustees failed to vote in favour of allowing the Act to apply, thereby excluding these poor elderly people of the privileges and rights they would have had under the Act, he said.
“Some of their members receive R1 per month to live on after working for Transnet for a lifetime.
“Yet instead of spending the little they have to help these poor pensioners, they spend hundreds of thousands of rands on legal costs to oppose the application.
“Should the court now exclude these poor elderly people from approaching the court? If that is what the interest of justice demands I will be surprised,” Cilliers said. - Sapa