Pretoria - Research shows that only about six in 100 South Africans have enough money saved for retirement, so most people end up relying on family, friends or charity to survive into old age.
For women, the situation is exacerbated by the fact that we earn less than men in equal positions (so less is paid to pension funds), and tend to live much longer than men.
So, increasingly, pensioners are starting a second career, launching their own businesses, reskilling or simply finding a part-time job that will help to pay the bills.
I spoke to three pensioners who are still working well into their autumn years, and loving it.
Rejoice Ngcongo, 65, Durban
In 2009, when she reached 60, Rejoice Ngcongo retired from her job as scholarships manager at the Mandela Rhodes Foundation. But shortly afterwards, in 2009, the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation asked her to work for three days a week as their human resources manager. It was only in May this year that she decided to retire properly and take the rest she had earned.
Rejoice has worked hard to achieve success. She started out as a high school teacher, then progressed to a senior lecturer post at the University of Zululand, where she worked for 16 years, seven of which she was professor of education and four of which she was vice dean of the education faculty.
And over this time, she gathered a number of qualifications – a high school teaching diploma, a bachelor of social science in social work, a PhD in leadership and conflict resolution, and a coaching certificate.
As a retiree living alone (her husband died in 2004), however, her pension – at just more than R10 000 a month – is modest to say the least. But she now has a late life career as a life coach, and Rejoice is finding she still has so much to give. “Perhaps I didn’t save enough to have a big pension, but it doesn’t worry me because I have my health and I’m loving what I do,” says the indomitable grandmother-of-six who lives in Westville.
She calls her coaching and training business Mindfield, and in the last five months Rejoice has been getting more work than she anticipated. “For students with a limited budget, I will ask just R200 an hour, but for teachers or lecturers it is between R1 500 and R2 000. I also offer facilitation services at organisations. This is what I enjoy, and I am so excited about it. It is not about the money, it is my passion to unlock the potential in people,” she says.
Still, even with the added income, it comes in piecemeal and it doesn’t mean she can go out and buy a new fridge or flat-screen TV. “I still have an old TV, but I am happy. I don’t need more than the basics. As long as it’s nice and clean, I am comfortable enough. Anyway, it has never been money that drives me, it’s the amazing rewards I get out of my work,” she enthuses.
For Rejoice, the completion of the circle of her autumn years are her “wonderful neighbours and friends”, and her two grown-up sons, their wives and her grandchildren, all living in Gauteng. “For the rest, I just love to read, listen to my music and write,” she says.
Monica Cromhaut, 68, Cape Town
Monica Cromhaut found an unusual second career path in the wake of her husband’s death in 2005, when it quickly became clear her nest egg was dwindling fast.
Since 2008, tapping into her former experience as a contributing astrologer to a media website for 15 years, Monica has been doing astrology readings and teachings. To add to her income, space at her home, which she calls the Healing House Helderberg, is rented out as a place of rest and refuge for people on a “spiritual path”. “I have seven tents in the garden, for which I charge daily rates, weekly rates and monthly rates, and it’s all self-catering,” she says.
It’s a life far removed from her previous one, when she worked as a training manager for a small insurance company on Greenmarket Square from 1988 to 1990.
“I was being well paid and flying around the country, staying in hotels and eating in good restaurants. My husband at the time was a sales manager at AECI, so we were both doing well financially,” she says.
When her husband retired in 1990, however, he wanted Monica to retire too so she could be with him. “We started a little publishing company together which we ran from home for nine years, and although it was great fun and I learnt many valuable lessons, it was financially disastrous,” she says. Worse was to come. In the middle of 2005 her husband was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died that November, leaving her a small widow’s pension to live off (she had not been in a salaried job long enough to accumulate a sustainable pension).
Worried that she wouldn’t be able to continue living in her marital home, Monica found that she could get a comfortable income from her own resources, and she’s never been in a happier space. “I’ve always been one of those people who will make a plan. If I can’t make money here, I’ll go there. And because I’ve been open-minded and willing to bend, I’ve led an extraordinary life,” she says.
Monica has a grown-up son, who gets posted all over the world for his job at a British company, and a daughter, who works as a nurse in England. “I would never ask my children for money. I am well able to look after myself,” she says.
Robert McIvor, 67, Joburg
Robert worked as an engineer for 45 years before he retired at the end of 2011. Uneasy with the idea of staying at home and living on his modest pension, Robert was fortunate enough to be re-employed by an old contact he had from his engineering days who sells pet food.
“He said to me ‘Why don’t you take care of the Gauteng sales and deliveries?’. I agreed immediately,” he says. The Complete pet food brand is manufactured in Vryburg and gets delivered to a distribution depot in Germiston, so Robert collects his pet food orders from there with his Toyota Avante and delivers them to his customers’ door.
“I drive all over Johannesburg, out to Boksburg and Benoni, no problem. I also sell the product at flea markets, like the Rhodes Park Spring Fair. It brings in enough money to keep the home fires burning. My house is fully paid for, and I’m not a burden on the state or anyone,” he says.
Robert’s wife Jennifer handles the accountancy side of the business.
She has been retired for 10 years after working as a PA to an insurance broker and Robert admits that he invested the pension she received in a business that flopped after two years. “But I’ve made the money back for us. We’re both happy and healthy and, at 67, I feel as strong as a lion,” he says.
Robert and Jennifer have a grown son and daughter, and he’s happy to report that he still gives them money occasionally. And they have two grandchildren they dote on.
* The Retirement Expo, which takes place at the Coca Cola Dome from October 25 to 27 says it “will answer the tough questions about retirement planning by presenting a wealth of retirement options, over 130 exhibits, informative workshops and interactive events under one roof”.
Tickets are R50 a person or R25 for seniors, at the door, and pensioners who park in Parking Block D get discounted parking of just R15. For the full activity schedule, go to www.retirementexpo.co.za. - Pretoria News