Can you survive on US$60 a month, Mr President?

With just about one and a half months to go before the President celebrates his 92nd birthday, I can not help but wonder that if he had been a pensioner, would he had been able to survive on a monthly payout of US$60 - which is what most elderly people are receiving from the National Social Security Authority (NSSA).

money_launderingThe manner in which the elderly are treated in Zimbabwe brings tears to the eyes of every person with a conscience, as it is deplorable beyond words.

The sad plight of the elderly starts the moment they have to apply for the social security grant from NSSA.

The process is so cumbersome, such that it feels as if NSSA is trying by all means to discourage the elderly from claiming what is rightfully due to them.

How else can one explain the numerous times that the elderly are expected to travel to the NSSA provincial offices – which can be as far away as a 100 kilometres or more – just to be told each time they go there that their application forms can not be found and they have to re-apply?

I have personally witnessed this gross incompetence – or is it a deliberate ploy with sinister objectives – by NSSA, as an elderly person had to spend up to one and a half years just to have an application approved.

Throughout this cumbersome, and clearly cruel, process, the elderly person was made to re-fill the application form about three times, as each time she had to travel to the Gweru offices of NSSA – an expensive undertaking for someone who is struggling to afford even a meal – she was told that her application form was missing.

In addition to this, she was also requested to seek the signatures and details of her former employers, the payslips, and the monthly contributions made.

The question that immediately came to my mind was that, did NSSA not already have such information in their system, if the employers were remitting contributions?

Why hassle an elderly person to go on a clearly odious manhunt for a former employer who closed their company years ago and could probably be anywhere in the world?

In the example that I witnessed, the pensioner had to telephone all the people who used to work for the company, to found out if they had any idea as to the whereabouts of their former employer.

Fortunately enough, she managed to track down one of the former directors of the company, after months of expensive phone calls and enquiries – which meant she, at times, went hungry as she sacrificed meals in the hope of finally getting monthly social security payouts.

However, the problems do not end there, as the issue of payslips is another huddle, in what appears as a war by the government against the elderly.

Seriously how many of us still have our payslips from when we started working?

However, NSSA would demand those payslips, and  this results in further expenses on the elderly, who are already in serious dire financial straits – as they have to probably travel long distances to their various former employers in order to ask for copies of their payslips.

As with the earlier cited example, after travelling long and expensive journeys, the elderly might get at their former place of employment only to discover that the company has since closed down and their former employers are nowhere to be found.

All these are the inhumane huddles the elderly face just in the application phase in their long painful journey to get monthly payouts.

However, if the application is approved, the battle of the long queues starts.

One just has to visit their nearest People’s Own Savings Bank (POSB) branch during the NSSA payout days to witness for themselves the gross indignity that the elderly are further subjected to.

The elderly – most whom are clearly too fragile and sickly – are required to stand in endless queues for days, especially in larger cities.

In all this, they still need to eat – another expense.

After being subjected to such indignity, what do they receive at the end? US$60!

Is this not an insult and slap in the face of our elderly? Spitting in the faces of the people who gave birth to us, raised us, toiled for us, sacrificed for us, protected us, provided for us – and we the audacity to call ourselves a civilised nation!

Seriously what can one use with US$60 per month?

Is the government suggesting that once a person is elderly, they cease to have any financial responsibilities?

The elderly face the same – if not more – challenges that everyone else faces.

As if the government needs to be told this, but the elderly still need to buy food.

Where are  the elderly supposed to get money to pay rent or rates for their accommodation?

Where does the government expect the elderly to get money to pay for electricity and water?

Do the elderly no longer have to pay for, usually expensive, medication at privately-owned pharmacies – as most medication is not available at government institutions?

They also have to travel long distances – usually monthly – to access specialised medical attention, as the country only caters for most diseases that usually affect the elderly, such as cancer, at central hospitals in Harare and Bulawayo.

Are the elderly not the ones who are now carrying the burden of looking after grandchildren – whose parents would be deceased, especially these days of HIV/Aids and other fatal diseases?

It is commendable that the rights of the elderly are now enshrined in our constitution, as Section 82 clearly spells them out – but the problem is always the lack of implementation.

This is the time for our government to show that they still have some Ubuntu and conscience left by taking care of the nation’s eldrely, as there is no greater treasurer than these.

° Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a community activist, communications specialist, journalist, and writer. He writes in his personal capacity. He welcomes and appreciates feedback. Please feel free to call/WhatsApp: +263782283975, or email: [email protected]com

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