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The position as at 31 October 2017

In Britain the Government was kept aware of the unresolved pensions issue through correspondence to the FCO Minister for Africa by Sir Gerald Howarth, MP, (a former Parliamentary Adviser to OSPA) and an Early Day Motion in the House of Commons tabled by Sir Nicholas Soames (son of Lord Soames, the last Governor of Rhodesia in 1979-80), and some other MPs from both Labour and Conservative parties.  That Motion fell when Parliament was prorogued for the General Election on 8 June 2017.  Sir Nicholas tabled an amended motion on 12 July.  It has gained the support of members from five different political parties plus one Independent.  Such motions are not debated but are regarded as useful in keeping a topic as a live issue.

Pensioners in South Africa are still being frustrated by the insistence of the Pensions Office in Harare that all pensioners much report in person to the Zimbabwe Embassy or a Consulate to sign a fresh Certificate of Life.  There is no concession for people physically unable to make the necessary journey.  Furthermore it appears that the Embassy had failed to send completed Certificates of Life to the Pensions Office before the stated cut-off date.  The consequence is that most of the pensioners in South Africa have not received their pension payments due for the period July-December 2016 nor, of course, for 2017.  We have made this situation known to the FCO and the Embassy in Harare.

After OSPA’s closure in October, enquiries to HMG about the pensions should be addressed to:

1.  Southern Africa Section (Zimbabwe desk), Africa Directorate, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, King Charles Street, London SW1A 2AH

2.  General London email address:  [email protected]

3.  British Embassy in Harare:  [email protected]

OSPA’S contacts with the Zimbabwe and British Governments from the 1980s

From the mid 1980s onwards OSPA took every opportunity to press the British Government, and when possible the Zimbabwe Government,  to take action to protect the value of the Public Service pensions and to ensure their remittance to pensioners outside Zimbabwe.  In the 1980s this was done through contacts with MPs in the Commons and members of the House of Lords.  In the early 1990s OSPA was able to raise the matter directly with President Mugabe and Zimbabwe ministers in London.  There was correspondence and some meetings with British ministers in the FCO and the DFID.  The issue was raised many times in debates, motions and questions in both houses of Parliament.  After 2003 the complete stoppage of the pensions led to further meetings with British ministers.  In October 2007, in a debate in the House of Lords initiated by OSPA’s President, Lord Waddington, the FCO Minister responsible, Lord Malloch Brown, declined to speak to his official brief, saying that the Government needed to look at the matter again, and that “there is a moral and pragmatic case here, and a responsibility to public servants who have served the Crown so honourably”.

A year passed, until in October 2008 Lord Malloch Brown admitted to Lord Waddington that he had been unable to get support from within the Government for any measure to help the pensioners.  There was some sympathetic comment in the British press, but no action.

In October 2009 the Pensions Office Director declared that he was hoping to be able to resume pension payments outside Zimbabwe.  It would be necessary for pensioners to submit fresh application forms with supporting documents.  This news was spread to pensioners by OSPA and other pensioner groups in Britain and in South Africa.  During 2010 a large number of responses were submitted to the Pensions Office.  But no payments were made.

The change of government in Britain in May 2010, when the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition replaced Labour, led to brief hopes of a review of British policy, following supportive comments made by Conservative politicians before the election.  At a meeting in October 2010 the FCO Minister for Africa, Mr Henry Bellingham, undertook to explore the possibility of finding some way whereby the DFID might be willing to help the pensioners, but that too led to nothing.  There were then expressions of hope that the so-called ‘Unity’ government in Zimbabwe would cause payments to be resumed.  That did happen for a minority of pensioners in South Africa in February 2012, but for no-one else.  Another meeting in December 2012 with Mr Bellingham’s successor as Minister for Africa, Mr Mark Simmonds, only resulted in renewed requests to the Zimbabwe Government to make the payments, and more expressions of hope for a favourable outcome of the deferred Zimbabwe elections in July 2013.  

Those elections did not fulfil expectations of significant change in the Zimbabwe Government.  In November and again in December 2013 Mr Simmonds told OSPA of the British Embassy’s fresh contacts with the relevant Zimbabwe departments and his hopes for “real progress”.  But there was no positive outcome.   So in July 2014 Lord Goodlad led another meeting with Mr Simmonds.  The Minister said that HMG could not accept OSPA's proposal that ex-gratia payments should be made to the Zimbabwe pensioners in order to alleviate the financial hardship caused by the stoppage of their pensions since 2003.  HMG did not agree that there was any moral or legal obligation for them to do so.  But he assured OSPA that HMG would continue to press the Zimbabwe Government to fulfil its legal responsibilities and resume the payments as Zimbabwe ministers had earlier promised.

We had more meetings with successive FCO ministers in 2015 and 2016, and with the British ambassador who raised the matter with Zimbabwe ministers and officials.  Lord Goodlad kept the matter alive in the House of Lords by tabling Parliamentary Questions up until March 2017.  But the Government's replies remained consistently unhelpful.  On 12 July 2017 an Early Day Motion about the pensions was tabled in the House of Commons by Sir Nicholas Soames, whose father was the last British Governor in 1979/80 when Zimbabwe's independence was being negotiated.  Such motions are seldom debated but they can attract Parliamentary attention and interest.

The full background about the pensions

At the time of the negotiations with HMG in 1979/80 over the lawful independence of Rhodesia/Zimbabwe there was great concern by officers employed in the Public Service there about the security of their pensions.  The Rhodesia/Zimbabwe Public Service was never a part of the Colonial Service (HMOCS), because since 1923 Southern Rhodesia had been an internally self-governing colony under the Crown, with its Government being responsible for the recruitment and appointment of its civil servants, their terms and conditions, and their pension arrangements.  

The illegal regime which had been declared unilaterally in November 1965 was ended in December 1979 by the restoration of a British-appointed Governor, Lord Soames, and the resumption under his authority of normal colonial rule (i.e. not directly by the British Government).  This lasted until the attainment of lawful independence in April 1980.

Practice in other colonies

When other British colonies became independent, the practice was for the British Government and the emerging government of the territory to make a Public Officers’ Agreement (POA).  The POA was designed to protect the pensions of expatriate public service officers of Her Majesty’s Overseas Civil Service (HMOCS) by ensuring that the pensions would be paid by the new independent government on the same terms as before and would be remitted at the rate of exchange that prevailed at an agreed date before or at independence.  In the early 1960’s and 1970’s the British Government took action, first, to supplement Overseas Service pensions by annual increases in order to maintain their value in relation to the British cost of living in the same way as was done for UK civil servants and, second, to take over the basic pensions and pay them itself, so as to relieve the overseas governments of that financial liability.  This was done as part of an overseas aid initiative.

Zimbabwe treated differently

In the case of Zimbabwe the British Government refused to consider making a POA, though ministers said they would have no objection if the Rhodesian Public Service itself was to make such an agreement with the Zimbabwe Government.  That was impossible, as POA’s have always been made between governments.  When the question of security for Zimbabwe Public Service pensions was raised in the House of Lords in December 1979 by the late Lord Gridley, speaking on behalf of OSPA, Lord Trefgarne, the Minister responsible, said that he would reply to Lord Gridley in a letter.  His letter, dated 20 December 1979, said that the Zimbabwe Independence Constitution would contain “full safeguards” for pensions.  The Public Service pensioners accepted that assurance at face value.   They also recalled that a few months earlier, at the Lusaka Commonwealth Conference in August 1979, the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had said that Rhodesia would be treated like any former British colonial territory.  There were then statements by the British Government to the effect that the attainment of lawful independence for Zimbabwe and the ending of the fighting would lead to an inflow of aid and investment, economic growth and prosperity.

The Zimbabwe dollar, which had originally had a value of two dollars to £1 sterling, ie was worth 50p, rose after 1965 and at legal independence in April 1980 was worth 68p.  However, it then began to fall and soon dropped well below 50p.  This meant a fall in the value of the pensions paid outside the country.  It was then made known by the British Government that the “full safeguards” mentioned by Lord Trefgarne did not cover the value of the pensions, but only meant that the Constitution provided that the pensions would be paid by the Zimbabwe Government on the same terms as before, in Zimbabwe currency, and would be remitted to payees outside the country.

British Government denies responsibility

When the Zimbabwe Public Service pensioners, through OSPA, asked the British Government in the 1980s to take action to protect the value of their pensions against this serious decline, HMG refused on the grounds that its legal responsibility was limited only to those overseas civil servants recruited and appointed by or under the authority of the British Secretary of State in the Colonial Office (or successor), which was never the case for Southern Rhodesia/Zimbabwe.  For the same reason, HMG refused to supplement or take over the Zimbabwe pensions.  Successive British governments have never moved from this position.  British Ministers have claimed that there are many other pensioners who could be regarded as having been in the public services in Zimbabwe or in other former colonies who have also suffered the loss of value of their pensions, for whom HMG does not and cannot accept responsibility.  Ministers have agreed that the Zimbabwe Public Service pensioners were “Crown Servants”, and have accepted that there is some moral responsibility for them.  But they have denied legal responsibility and have indicated that the Treasury would never agree to accept any financial liability.

“Locally appointed”, or expatriates?

The Zimbabwe Public Service pensioners have pointed out that they can be distinguished from all other categories, primarily by reference to their unique mention in the 1980 Zimbabwe constitution.  But British Ministers insist on describing all of them as “locally appointed officers” who therefore fall outside the pension protection arrangements  under the 1973 Overseas Pensions Act.  That insistence on all officers having been “locally appointed” takes no account of how many of them were actually treated.  Those who were recruited from Britain by the Southern Rhodesian Government, had their passages to Rhodesia paid for them from Government funds, were encouraged to take home leave back in Britain by being allowed to accumulate and take leave for up to six months and being given their rail fares from Rhodesia to South African ports so that they could travel back to Britain by sea, and at the end of their Government service they left Rhodesia and came back to live in Britain.  Thus in every important respect they had conditions of service that corresponded to the conditions of British expatriate officers in the Colonial Service appointed to serve in Northern Rhodesia, except only that they did not have their sea-passages paid to Britain on leave or retirement, and  that their formal appointment was by the lawful government of the British self-governing colony and not by the British Colonial Office.  Yet these two differences have been used to justify immensely different treatment of their pensions.    These Zimbabwe Public Service officers are completely and identifiably distinct from other locally-appointed civil servants who served on local conditions in other colonial territories.  It is disingenuous to pretend otherwise.

The 1973 Overseas Pensions Act would allow HMG to protect the pensions of Zimbabwe Public Service pensioners in the same way as British Colonial Service pensioners.  Furthermore there are several groups of pensioners who are not covered by Public Officers’ Agreements whose pensions have been given protection by HMG, contrary to what Ministers have stated (examples are people who served the former Governments of Egypt, Palestine, Sudan, Zanzibar and Aden).

Payment of the pensions ceased

By 2002 the official exchange value of the Zimbabwe dollar had dropped to a fraction of a penny.  The pensions received by pensioners outside Zimbabwe thus became worthless.  Most of the pensioners in Britain were reduced to applying for Social Security relief (Pension Credit) and for charitable help.  Those who live in other countries  such as South Africa or Australia were also reduced to penury and in most cases do not have any social security protection. Pensioners still living in Zimbabwe suffered from the complete collapse of the Zimbabwe currency which made their pensions worthless too.  In February/March 2003 the remittance of Public Service pensions to pensioners outside Zimbabwe stopped completely because the Zimbabwe Reserve Bank said that there was no foreign exchange available.  There followed the run-away inflation which destroyed all values and pension entitlements, and pensions for that period have been written off.

After dollarisation

In February 2009 the US dollar became the accepted currency in Zimbabwe.  In October 2009 the Director of the Zimbabwe Pensions Office revealed that he might be given authority to start making some pension allowance payments to pensioners outside Zimbabwe, though there was no question of being able to pay arrears.  Arrangements were made by OSPA and by the Flame Lily Foundation in South Africa to enable all such pensioners to submit their applications, supported by the necessary identification documents.  About 1,200 pensioners responded, and their documents were transmitted to the Pensions Office.  In October 2010 the Zimbabwe Minister of Finance, Mr Tendai Biti, said that the Government agreed in principle to pay the pensions and that a sum of US$ 3.5 million had been put into a special fund for that purpose.  Pension payments to pensioners within Zimbabwe were resumed, though the amounts were calculated differently when new pay structures were introduced.  Pensions are now calculated as a percentage - about 42% - of the current salary of the equivalent civil servant of the relevant grade, irrespective of the officer's length of service.

Some payments in South Africa

But no payments outside Zimbabwe were made, until in February 2012 some pensioners in South Africa who had accounts with the Standard Bank of South Africa did receive some payments.  These were said to be back-dated to 2009.  Payments have been continued until now, half-yearly in July and December although these tend to be erratic and irregular.

October 2017