‘Bureaucracy at RG’s office to cost widow access to husband’s benefits’

By Lizwe Sebatha

Violet Ndlovu, aged 66, buried her husband in May 2020 at Luveve cemetery in Bulawayo and never anticipated the stress associated with processing survivor benefits to enable her to take care of her children.

This benefit is paid out to surviving dependents of a deceased contributor by the pension regulatory body, National Social Security Authority (NSSA).

It is payable as a monthly pension or as a grant.

In order to qualify, one must be a surviving dependent of a deceased contributor, who, at the time of death, would have been entitled to an Invalidity or Retirement benefit.

A death certificate is one of the key requirements to pave the way for the processing of the survivor benefit.

However, at the inception of the Covid-19 lockdown in March 2020, the Government suspended operations of the registry office, including the issuance of death certificates

The office was however never closed for the processing of burial orders.

In September, Government gave a nod to the re-opening of the RG’s office, bringing relief to many who waited for months to process birth certificates and identity documents.

However, the office has not been issuing death certificates until recently, said Bulawayo Provincial Registrar, Jane Peters.

However, the death certificates are not processed on the same day. It takes weeks for the death certificate to be processed.

“I have lost count of the number of visits to the RG’s office since last year, seeking a death certificate for my late husband,” a dejected Ndlovu said.

It was only in early April that I managed to apply for a death certificate of my late husband. However, I was told to wait for another month before I can collect it.”

Time is fast running out for Ndlovu as in terms of Statutory Instrument 393 of 1993, the survivor should submit the claim to access the survivor’s benefit within 12 months after the death of a contributor. 

According to NSSA, the survivor’s benefit is normally paid to the spouse and children but, if there is no spouse, then the benefit may be paid to the deceased’s parents or other dependants registered as such with the pension’s body.

If the deceased member of the national pension scheme contributed to the scheme for less than 10 years and above 12 months, the benefit will be a once off lump sum payment. 

If contributions were paid for 120 months or more, there will be a monthly pension.

The surviving spouse of a deceased member who has contributed to the pension scheme for at least 120 months is normally entitled to a pension, which is 40 percent of the pension the deceased contributor or pensioner would have been entitled to.

The children’s allowance is also 40 percent of the pension that would have been due to the contributor. 

“This means that the family as a whole receives a pension that is equivalent to 80 percent of the pensioner’s pension or the pension that a contributor would have been entitled to had the pension been payable at the time he or she died,” the NSSA said.

“The children’s allowance is not paid for each child but for the children as a whole.”

In the event that the member is survived by children only, then the children’s guardian can claim the pension on their behalf, the NSSA said, adding “should there be more than one surviving spouse, then the spouse’s pension is shared equally among the spouses.”

However, with the RG’s office taking long to issue death certificates, Ndlovu and others in her predicament are left to deal with the psychological distress of failing to access their survivor benefits.

Many are worried that when they finally process and receive the benefits, the value would have been eroded.

“My main worry is prices continue going up on a daily basis. It is very depressing to say the least because the money will lose value because of inflation,” says Priscilla Moyo, a Magwegwe resident who lost her husband in December 2020.

In March, the total consumption poverty line (TCPL) for one person stood at $5 312 as measured by the Zimbabwe National Statistical Office (ZimStats).

According to ZimStats, the monthly cost of living for a family of five shot to $28 362 from $26 560 in March 2021.

“It is really sad and worse if you factor in the current socio-economic situation where people have no jobs, where Covid-19 has left many in poverty,” said former Pumula legislator, Sichelesile Mahlangu.

“This adds more grief to surviving members who are yet to heal after losing their loved ones.”

Ward 17 -Pumula councillor, Sikhululekile Moyo added: “This is one area that needs prioritisation by authorities factoring inflation trends.”

The Registry is also not processing new passports till further notice amid the huge backlog dating back as far back as 2018.

Lawyer, Nqobani Sithole, argued failure by government to provide necessary identity documents is a violation of the constitution.

Sithole cited Section 35 (3)(b) and Section 35(3)(c) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe which states that all Zimbabwean citizens are birth certificates, passports and other identity documents issued by the state.

“It’s a violation of constitutional provisions for the government to fail to provide such. There are serious legal implications to the state if it fails to provide such services. As that is not enough, we have international statutes such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which says everyone must have a right to recognition everywhere, as a person before the law. The net effect as a citizen, which is the right to identity is being violated,” he said.

Home Affairs Minister, Kazembe Kazembe, said the government is working flat out to clear the backlogs in the issuance of identity documents among others.

“With regards passports as an example, the first solution by government is to buy additional machinery to increase capacity and match demand.” For now, Ndlovu and countless others will have to put up with the inconvenience.

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