Cape Town – At 92 years old, Struggle stalwart Nathaniel Masemola can finally breathe a sigh of relief after the Constitutional Court yesterday ruled in his favour, with costs, that he was entitled to a special pension.
This follows a lengthy legal battle with the Special Pensions Appeal Board and the Government Pensions Administration Agency, which had stopped paying Masemola’s pension after he was convicted of fraud, and which would not budge when he was granted a presidential pardon.
Justice Nonkosi Mhlantla yesterday restored Masemola’s pension, backdated to 2011.
“In recognition of the sacrifices made by Struggle activists, section 189 of the interim Constitution required that legislation be enacted to provide for the payment of special pensions by the national government to persons who had made sacrifices or served the public interest in the establishment of a democratic constitutional order,” Justice Mhlantla said.
Masemola was involved in the anti-apartheid Struggle and had spent some time in exile. After returning from exile, he served on the ANC’s Legal and Constitutional Committee, which participated in the processes leading to the adoption of the Constitution.
In 1997 Masemola had applied for and was awarded a special pension in terms of the Special Pensions Act 69 of 1996.
In April 2001 he was convicted of fraud and was disqualified from receiving the pension.
A few years after his conviction Masemola applied for a presidential pardon, which was granted in July 2011, and in 2012 he received a South African Police Services Clearance Certificate, certifying that the conviction had been expunged from his record.
But the Special Pensions Appeal Board refused to restore his pension.
This is when Masemola approached the courts.
The National Treasury responsible for special pensions as well as the Government Pensions Administration Agency did not respond to requests for comment on the Constitutional Court judgment by deadline.
Masemola’s attorney, Patrick Bracher from Norton Rose Fulbright, said: “We are delighted, nobody more so than Mr Masemola, who is now 92 and finally got the justice we've been looking for.
"It’s sad for a man at 92 to have gone through all this. He had to go to court twice and appeal twice. So it was nice to be involved in finally getting him access to that justice. He believed in us and we believed in him.”
Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) Veterans’ Steering Committee’s James Ngculu said this was the tip of the iceberg for the problems faced by Struggle stalwarts.
“We as veterans have been raising concerns about the way benefits are managed and allocated. You find many gaps, whether it’s in relation to special pensions, schooling for beneficiaries, medical treatment etc.
"There is a big problem with the administrators. People sacrificed a lot and they deserve the benefits they are being deprived of,” he said.
Attorney Michael Donen, who has been approached by many activists for assistance with special pension application appeals, said there was an administrative problem with special pensions.
“Comrades are old and poor and need their pensions. The people on the pensions board were not involved in the Struggle so they don't understand what it was.
"People would have to have jobs to avoid arrest by the security police, so they'd have a cover. The board would then tell them 'you had a job, you could have gotten a pension, you were not fully employed by the liberation movement'.
"However, their jobs were merely a cover and they were fully involved in the Struggle,” Donen said.
“The other problem with my clients being old and poor is that these cases are likely to take years and they might be dead by the time they conclude.
"They also do not have the funds or resources to go up against the government's best,” he said.