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Cape Town – "I did not want someone to make me feel like my contribution was not recognised."

These were the words of veteran Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) guerrilla Ranjan Sewpersadh after winning a 13-year legal battle involving his Special Pension, which the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) found he was entitled to.

Sewpersadh said he was relieved at the SCA’s ruling as it was fair and in the interest of justice.

The 60-year-old was a member of both the ANC and MK during apartheid.

Operating under the alias of “Jimmy”, he performed underground work for more than five years prior to their unbanning on February 2, 1990. 

"In court papers, Sewpersadh said he underwent intense political education, including attending night classes. He was given various tasks during the Struggle, most of them clandestine.

These included servicing dead letterboxes, distributing ANC and MK newsletters and pamphlets, as well as secret reconnaissance work. Acting as a courier, he also conveyed banned literature and other ANC material to and from Swaziland and serviced so-called “safe houses”, protecting cadres engaged in political and military activities.

At the centre of the SCA dispute between Sewpersadh, the minister of finance and the Special Pensions Appeal Board was whether Sewpersadh had been “engaged full-time” in their service.

According to court papers Sewpersadh, as a cover for his activities, took up a menial job at a jewellery workshop in Durban that was not demanding of his time but paid a pittance.

“He did so as it provided a safe environment from which he could conduct activities on behalf of the ANC and MK, especially as he could use terminology associated with the jewellery industry as a code to pass on secret messages," the SCA judgment read.

According to the judgment, the chairperson of the Appeal Board had reasoned on rejection of Sewpersadh’s application, that: “... private employment as a means of providing cover for an underground operative, implies that more often than not, such a person would be unable to market his/her skills on the open labour market to secure decent employment with reasonable benefits. To do otherwise would surely attract unnecessary attention, and therefore run the risk of having his/her cover revealed.”

Several more failed appeal attempts went by, including on October 25, 2013. But Sewpersadh was not given reasons for the rejection. It was only on February 21, 2014, after he had threatened court action to compel compliance, that the Appeal Board said Sewpersadh had been employed full-time at the jewellery workshop which, so it reasoned, precluded him being engaged in the full-time service of the ANC and MK.

In finding in favour of Sewpersadh, with costs, SCA Judge Lorimer Leach said: “In my opinion, in placing a restrictive interpretation upon the phrase, the majority of the Appeal Board lost sight of the reality that those engaged in the Struggle against apartheid faced in this country. 

Prior to the unbanning of the ANC and MK on February 2, 1990, it was a criminal offence to be a member of those organisations.

“The so-called ‘security forces’ of the apartheid state operated tirelessly and brutally against their opponents.

“The reach of the security police was long, relentless and determined, and it was impossible for members of the ANC and MK to operate in the open. Instead, they were obliged to operate covertly, as the appellant did.”

The Finance Ministry, attached to the National Treasury, did not respond to requests for comment by deadline. Government Employees Pension Fund spokesperson Matau Molapo said the national Treasury was responsible for Special Pensions, and for this reason the fund could not comment.

Cape Times