They are in their 70s, 80s, 90s, and even 100s. Teachers or administrative agents, they are government workers in the Democratic Republic of Congo who continue to work despite the fact that they are in severe need of a stipend, a pension, and recognition.
“I would like the state to make me leave with honor,” says Bayard Kumwimba Dyuba, 84, an elementary school teacher in Lubumbashi, in the southeast of the country.
The little, joyful man with the yellow shirt and blue cap, asking for the question to be repeated, claims his thinking is bright, but his back is bent and his “hearing is problematic.”
“I started teaching in 1968, on September 9,” he says. “It’s the job I chose…I don’t want to give it up,” continues the teacher, who teaches a class of 35 students aged 11 or 12. “But I’m at the end of my rope.”
Why doesn’t he retire, then? “I want to leave!” he says. “But not like this, with nothing! I would like to be given what I deserve. A “final settlement” – something like $30,000, he hopes – followed by a regular pension payment.
Despite a 2016 statute stating that people who have achieved the age of 65 or have completed 35 years of service are entitled for retirement, many state employees have been neglected for years.
“We are neglected, almost abandoned,” notes the elderly teacher, who says he earns a monthly salary of 370,000 Congolese francs ($185).
The principal of a nearby elementary school is 78 years old.
In 1962, Françoise Yumba Mitwele began teaching. She smiles, upright and handsome in her colorful loincloth costume, and says, “It was my vocation, I love teaching.”
She, too, is “weary,” but she keeps working because she is waiting for “a sum of money to leave,” which she puts at 25,000 dollars, enough to buy a house for her children.
Jean-Pierre Lihau, the Minister of the Civil Service, predicted that 350,000 personnel were eligible for retirement in September.
“14,000 are over 90 years old, 256 are centenarians. The oldest is 110 years old,” he said, claiming that he wanted to work towards a “gradual departure of those concerned to a retirement that is dignified compared to the past.
“It’s déjà vu; every minister says the same thing and then nothing happens,” says Hubert Tshiswaka, head of the Institute for Research in Human Rights in Lubumbashi, which defends the files of former government officials who are eligible for retirement.
“The pensions do not arrive and the old men and women die in misery,” he says, deploring the “embezzlement” of public money and the “impunity” that goes with it.
Françoise is similarly suspicious, because nothing has changed since the minister’s words.
“I would like to leave with my head held high,” insists the director, who also asks that her work during all these years be recognized. “We don’t even have a medal, which we could leave to our grandchildren…”, she blows, between anger and sadness.
“Petit Pierre” climbs the rickety staircase that leads to his office on the first floor of a blue home in the Singa Mopepe district, of which he is the leader, in the Lingwala commune, at the opposite end of the nation in Kinshasa.
Yantula Bobina Pierre Elengesa, his true name, is also glad to work “for the great service of the State” at the age of 80. He welcomes the residents, addresses their neighborhood or housing concerns, and performs censuses as the head of the neighborhood…
With 1960, he was a drummer in Joseph Kabasele’s ensemble, alias Grand Kallé, who wrote the cult classic “Independence Cha Cha.” After a catastrophic vehicle accident in 1963, in which he lost a leg, he quit performing music. “I have a prosthesis, I am used to it,” the district chief says.
He gets up at 3 a.m. every day save Sunday to escape traffic delays and go to his office.
He does not mention his age when asked if his profession is tiring, but he laments not having a computer. “The world has evolved, but the administration has not,” he adds, standing in front of binders and megaphones with which he does “outreach” in his area.
But still, “you see that at my age, it’s time to rest… But retirement is not coming,” says Petit Pierre. “We’re here, we’re waiting,” he says philosophically.
The Ministry of the Civil Service did not answer to AFP’s demands for information about the steps taken to facilitate the exit of its old agents.
The article is paraphrased from the following: In DR Congo, civil servants work until the end of their lives, Africanews with AFP, 26/03 – 15:03, https://www.africanews.com/2022/03/26/in-dr-congo-civil-servants-work-until-the-end-of-their-lives/