In DR Congo, civil servants work until the end of their lives

Mr Bayard Kumwimba Dyuba started teaching in 1968, and still teaches a class of 35 pupils aged 11 or 12. PHOTO: AFP

KINSHASA (AFP) - They are past 70 years old and sometimes even 100. Many civil servants in the Democratic Republic of Congo work until their last days, hoping for a pension and recognition that never comes.

"I would like the state to close my career with honour," said Mr Bayard Kumwimba Dyuba, 84, a primary school teacher in Lubumbashi, the main town in the south-east of the vast central African country.

Mr Dyuba is a short, jovial man with a sharp mind, plagued by a bent back and "difficult hearing".

"I started teaching in 1968, on Sept 9. It's the job I chose... I don't want to give it up," he said after the question has been repeated. "But I am at the end of my strength."

He teaches a class of 35 pupils aged 11 or 12.

"I want to leave, But not like that, with nothing. I would like to be given what I deserve," Mr Dyuba said.

He estimates that US$30,000 (S$40,681) would be the fair "final tally" on his departure, followed by a regular pension.

But for years, many teachers and administrative workers have been forgotten, despite a 2016 law stipulating that those who have reached the age of 65 or have accumulated 35 years of career are eligible for retirement.

"We are neglected, almost abandoned," said Mr Dyuba, adding that he earns a monthly salary of 370,000 Congolese francs (S$249).

In another primary school close to his, the headmistress is 78 years old.

Ms Francoise Yumba Mitwele entered the profession in 1962. "It was my vocation, I love to teach," she said, upright and dapper in her colourful African wrap.

Like Mr Dyuba, she is tired but continues to work, because she is also waiting for "a sum to leave". She evaluates this departure payment at US$25,000, which would suffice to buy a house for her children.

Headmistress Francoise Yumba Mitwele entered the profession in 1962, but is continuing to work because she is waiting for "a sum to leave". PHOTO: AFP

Last September, Minister of the Public Service Jean-Pierre Lihau estimated the number of civil service agents eligible for retirement at 350,000.

He said that "14,000 are over 90 years old, 256 are centenarians and the oldest is 110 years old". The minister said he wanted to work for a "gradual departure of those concerned to a retirement that is dignified compared to the past".

"It's been heard before, every minister says the same thing and then nothing happens," said lawyer Hubert Tshiswaka, director of the Human Rights Research Institute in Lubumbashi, which defends the cases of former public service employees eligible for retirement.

"The pensions do not come and the old dads and old mothers die in misery," Mr Tshiswaka said, criticising the "embezzlement" of public money and the "impunity" that goes with it.

Ms Mitwele is also sceptical, because since the government minister's declarations, nothing has changed.

"I would like to leave with my head held high," said the headmistress, who also asked that her work over the years be recognised. "We don't even have a medal, which we could leave to our grandchildren," she said, her sadness shot through with anger.

Mr Bayard Kumwimba Dyuba teaching in his 5th year primary classroom in Lubumbashi on Feb 14, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

On the far side of the country, in the capital Kinshasa, "Petit Pierre" clings to the banister as he climbs a rickety staircase up to his office, on the first floor of a blue house in the Singa Mopepe district of which he is the chief.

At 80, Mr Yantula Bobina Pierre Elengesa, his real name, is pleased to work "for a great service of the state".

As head of the district in Lingwala commune, he receives the inhabitants, settles their neighbourhood or housing grievances, and takes censuses.

In 1960, he was a percussionist in the African Jazz rumba orchestra of Joseph Kabasele, alias Le Grand Kalle, author of the cult title "Independence Cha Cha".

Mr Elengesa gave up music after a serious car accident in 1963 when his leg was amputated. "I have a prosthesis, I'm used to it," he said.

Every day except Sunday, he wakes up at 3am to avoid traffic jams en route to his office.

When asked if his work is tiring, he does not mention his age but regrets not having a computer.

"The world has evolved but not the administration," Mr Elengesa said, sitting in front of shelves filled with filing cabinets and topped with megaphones, which he uses to "raise awareness" in his district.

All the same, "You see that at my age, it's time to rest... But retirement isn't coming," Mr Elengesa added. "We're here, we're waiting."

The public service ministry has not specified what measures have been taken to allow the departure of its elderly agents and did not respond to requests from AFP.

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