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Retiring. Actor and producer Jack Sserunkuma believes retirement should never be about age, writes Edgar R. Batte.
Jack Kinobe Sserunkuma’s perception of retirement is in a three-phase process; planning to retire, going for retirement, and surviving in retirement. And to him, retirement is not about age but how prepared you are for survival in retirement.
As such, when one turns 18, and becomes an adult, planning for retirement should start. “At that age, we are thinking about falling in love and starting families. We soon finish school, find jobs and partners. We get married and start families and so on. Then, reality checks in. What we see today is people biting their teeth to hold on tightly to the small jobs they have in fear of turning destitute in their mother land,” he observes.
Sserunkuuma started his journey as an artiste at the tender age of six. He drew interest in dancing while at St. Mark Primary School at Naminya, Church of Uganda in Njeru Municipality.
His teachers recognised his talent and made him a lead dancer in the school. When Governor Solo, of then Central Province, visited the school in 1974 on his familiarisation tour of Mukono District, the youngster caught his eye and he seconded him to join The Heartbeat of Africa, a group that performed at national occasions.
Its membership was drawn from talent tapped countrywide. That was during the regime of President Idi Amin Dada. He later joined Kiira College Butiki and continued to grow his talent of dancing under the guidance of Father Frans Vester.
In the mid-1980s, he caught the eye of Mary Jane Musungu who was the education officer at the National Theatre then; recruiting him into ‘Students Theatre’ which later changed its name into the Young Theatre Artistes programme.
There, he met with other young talented people who had excelled in arts in their respective schools. The idea was to create and train a new team to take over from the elders in arts.
By 1990, he had started thinking about his retirement because, by that time, 23-year-old Sserunkuuma had started working and earning from theatre. He believes that one’s retirement journey should start on the first day of his work.
Jack, as he is commonly known, had perfected his craft as an entertainer. One of his highlights was featuring in Rhythm of Violence, a stage play by Lewis Nkosi, a celebrated Anti-apartheid protest theatre writer.
Andrew Masondo who had just assumed office as head of mission of the Africa National Congress – ANC in Uganda, officiated as chief guest at one of the shows. He spotted Jack’s talent and invited him to his office.
The visit gave birth to an artistic collaboration between Ugandans and ANC combatants who had found refuge in Uganda. The collaboration worked on projects that reminded South Africans in exile that they had to mobilise for support from other Africans.
They sang Sesi buyela ekhaya (We are going back home) telling Ugandan counterparts that they were going back home. The message resonated with Sserunkuuma as his mind travelled back to his home village of Nakimboledde, in Njeru Municipality in Buikwe District, and the need to work towards going back there.
“That is where I was born, raised, and if anything, that’s where I will return. I want to influence all my city friends and dwellers to think about their ancestral villages and proudly mention them in their introductions. That way we shall think about retiring to the same villages prompting us to participate in development programmes of the same villages,” he explains.
While working with the South Africans, an idea of leaving Uganda for South Africa and work with the Africa National Congress (ANC) friends occurred to him but he decided against it.
He instead pondered on another, to retire from theatre and begin farming because his father, Ssalongo Lecoboam Sserunkuuma, was a peasant farmer, and he liked farming.
However, not all went according to his plans. When he had children, he had to go back to work , as a theatre arts practitioner. At the moment, he is a community development mobiliser and volunteer in community policing.
“I am now shifting to agriculture as I cut down on acting, directing and writing because as we grow older, the energies levels start to go down. There are things I used to do but can no longer do. I cannot do break-dance and ballet like I used to do,” he shares.
He adds, “Everything I am doing now is towards retirement. There are scripts I am writing now for future projects that I will probably be directing in 20 years to come if I will still be alive.”
Sserunkuuma’s observation is that it is important to align retirement projects within areas one is passionate and knowledgeable about. He is working on a film series which he has called the 3Rs, namely ‘Rights, Respect and Responsibility’.
One of his scripts “Looking Out from Within” shortened to ‘Auma’ is now under pre-production. The production will take place in December 2021. “It is a research about young people who feel they have rights not knowing that in Africa we never own rights. Society owns our rights. Enjoying rights in Africa comes as a reward after exhibiting responsibility and respect for society,” he explains.
Sserunkuma says, continuing to work should be about consolidation of one’s retirement plans.
“When you think your plans are clear, then just retire to give space for others to come in. I do not agree with the NSSF concept of keeping someone’s money and giving it to them in advanced age. What are they going to do when the energies are down already and the brains are slow in thinking?” he wonders.
In what he describes as his selfish opinion, Sserunkuuma argues that part of one’s job application should include his retirement plan, one that should include possible dates of leaving office and budget for survival activity during retirement should then be taken to NSSF and the bank so that fixed amounts are deducted from salaries and deposited to respective fixed bank accounts of the worker supervised by ministries in charge of finance and labour.
His other thought is that the retirement age for public office workers should be lowered to 40 years; thus giving one only five years to wind up since youthfulness ends at 35 years.
After 40, he adds that one should join the private sector and only be recalled back to serve in public offices as consultants.
“One works hard for 60 years in an office and at old age goes to start farming. It is disastrous and that is why many of them die immediately. That abrupt change in routine after forced retirement kills,” he says.
It is better to start early so that you do not just jump into new sectors which have their own pressures. Our young economists/specialists should also open firms specifically to offer advisory services to the workers on their planned retirement investments.
Some of us who choose to join the private sector should also think about evolving in our works. For my case as a theatre practitioner at 40 I evolved to theatre activism and loosening on the practice.