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

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They are 70, 80, 90 and even 100 years old. Teachers or administrative agents, they are civil servants in the Democratic Republic of Congo and still work, desperately waiting for a stipend, a pension and recognition that do not come.

"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.

His mind is sharp, but his back is stooped and his "hearing is difficult," says the small, jovial man in the yellow shirt and blue cap, asking for the question to be repeated.

"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.

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

"Abandoned"

"We are neglected, almost abandoned," notes the elderly teacher, who says he earns a monthly salary of 370,000 Congolese francs ($185).

In an elementary school next to his, the principal is 78 years old.

Françoise Yumba Mitwele started teaching in 1962. "It was my vocation, I love teaching," she smiles, straight and dapper in her colorful loincloth outfit.

Like Bayard, she is "tired" but continues to work, because she is waiting for "a sum of money to leave", which she estimates at 25,000 dollars, enough to buy a house for her children.

Last September, the Minister of the Civil Service, Jean-Pierre Lihau, estimated that 350,000 employees were eligible for retirement.

"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," criticizes Hubert Tshiswaka, director of the Institute for Research in Human Rights, which defends the files of former employees of public enterprises eligible for retirement in Lubumbashi.

"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 also skeptical, because since the minister's statements, nothing has changed.

"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.

"We are waiting"

At the other end of the country, in the capital Kinshasa, "Petit Pierre" climbs the bad staircase that leads to his office, on the first floor of a blue house in the Singa Mopepe district, of which he is the chief, in the Lingwala commune.

At 80 years old, Yantula Bobina Pierre Elengesa, his real name, is also happy to work "for a great service of the State". As head of the neighborhood, he receives the inhabitants, solves their neighborhood or housing problems, and conducts censuses...

In 1960, he was a percussionist in the orchestra of Joseph Kabasele, alias Grand Kallé, author of the cult title "Independence Cha Cha". He stopped playing music after a serious car accident in 1963, when he was amputated of a leg. "I have a prosthesis, I am used to it...", continues the head of the district.

Every day except Sunday, he wakes up at 3 a.m. to avoid traffic jams and come 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 the administration has not," he says, sitting in front of shelves filled with binders and topped with megaphones, with which he does "outreach" in his neighborhood.

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 specify what measures were taken to allow the departure of its old agents and did not respond to requests from AFP.

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