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We were kicked out like dogs, says rail pensioner

24 May, 01:26 PM

Pensioners who are holding an ongoing sit-in at the steps of the Houses of Parliament are "crashing" in a Cape Town church.

The group have been sleeping in Central Mission Church for weeks. Their makeshift home overlooks Cape Town's popular tourist market on Greenmarket Square. 

Bags of luggage lie piled up at the back of the church, with blankets and a few personal belongings. Here and there a small cell phone charges, while members of the group sit in the pews talking. Some stand outside the church smoking and talking in groups of three of four on the square.

Senior citizens from the Eastern Cape say they traveled to Cape Town by bus in order to protest outside Parliament. Alan Storey, minister at Central Methodist Mission says the church is not equipped to be a shelter, but also spoke highly of the elders' resolve.

"It's the least we can do in offering sanctuary in solidarity for their cause for justice. It has stretched us, it stretched our resources but by no means has it been unmanageable and we are very grateful for the privilege," said Storey.

The group has been in Cape Town for more than a month in a bid to obtain pensions owed to them by the now-defunct South African Railways and Harbours, and the Ciskei Road Traffic Corporation.

"We worked hard for the railways and we entered agreements to that effect. We did our jobs well but now we have been kicked out like dogs," said Tholobani Ngwandi, one of the 130 people staying in the church. 

They arrived on 18 April and were arrested days later with students who joined the group in solidarity with their cause. Police manhandled members of the group as the mood turned sour (see here).

Watch above.

Asked about the pensioner's cause last week, Democratic Alliance (DA) Chief Whip John Steenhuisen said the party had previously attempted to engage with the pensioners.

He intimated things would be different for the group under a different political party's administration. However, his party had not met with the group this year.

Minister of Human Settelements Lindiwe Sisulu - a member of the African National Congress (ANC) caucus - had been to visit the group, said a few members during an interview last week.

They were in the process of having their identity documents verified in order to obtain unemployment benefits.

However, the matter of pensions has yet to be settled. 

The group have been engaging with government over their pensions since at least 2008, as reported in this Ground Up story.

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