No rest for the elderly

mbare_womanMUTARE Margaret Tauzeni is 68 and a grandmother but instead of spending her twilight years under the care of her children, she is doing all the caring: caring for her sick son and eight orphaned grandchildren. (Pictured: An elderly women from Mbare, Harare (not the one referred to in story) Many in her age are having to look after orphaned grandchildren after th

This would still have been quite some burden even if she had money but she is uneducated, unemployed and has no source of income.

According to her, all her children have died of AIDS related illnesses. The other relatives have turned their backs on her.

I have talked to my relatives, but all of them have said they have their own problems. It is very difficult these days to ask some people on something that include finance, she said.

In Zimbabwe there are several thousands of elderly people thrust into similar caring roles. The cause is Aids.

Mother Theresa

Margaret is a widow from Zimunya, about 15km south of Mutare city. In the Zimunya area she has been referred to as Mother Theresa. She lives with her son and eight grandchildren in a small four-roomed house with only two bedrooms.

Deprivation and poverty is evident with empty kitchen shelves, malnourished and scantily dressed children. The overcrowded rooms have been subdivided to provide privacy.

This applies to both the bedroom and the living room. Margaret lives in the main bedroom where a blanket is used to subdivide this bedroom. The other half is where the girls sleep.

The other room is subdivided where Margarets sick son lives. The other half is where the boys sleep.

Succumbed to Aids

Margaret’s trouble began in 2000 when her eldest daughter, Mavis, succumbed to Aids. For three years until she died, Margaret nursed her daughter, a single mother, and looked after her three children.

Mavis died in 2003 aged 35. Her children ranged in age between three and nine years.

Worse followed. Her second born son, Brian, died aged 33 due to AIDS. His wife went to South Africa and now lives with another man.

Margaret described the woman as a coward who was after her sons money. She said: I do not want to talk about this woman. She is a coward who was after my sons money. She realised that my son was sick and she abandoned him. She did not even take care of him when he was sick. I do not have kind words for her.

She left behind three children. Margaret now had six children to care for and it marked the beginning of poverty. By the time Brian, a long distance truck driver died, all available resources had been exhausted by medical bills, as they went from one doctor to another and from one traditional healer to another.

Enough? No, there is more. Margarets other son Emmanuel aged 28, a father of four-year-old twins, is in advanced stages of the illness. His wife died last year of some AIDS related illness. So now she has responsibility for nine lives as well as her own: her dying son and eight grandchildren.

Miserable life

In an interview with The Zimbabwean on Sunday at her home, the visibly distraught Margaret said: The more devastating effect is that some of the children are born infected and have to endure a miserable period of suffering in innocence before they succumb to AIDS too. I have been through hell. I have been living a miserable life. I am just living by the grace of God.

I am not coping because the problem is growing every day, week and month. I am totally failing to look after the orphans. The gaps are too big.

She said the high death rate due to AIDS has traumatised her.

The worst aspect is that all my children died poor. They could not even look after themselves, she said.

But I cannot transfer this responsibility to anybody. The extended family system has also been overwhelmed, said Margaret.

I do not have money. There are no antiretroviral drugs in the clinics. There is no improvement in my young son’s health. He is deteriorating each day. I have also exhausted all the money from well-wishers and now I am forced to survive on handouts, she said.

Empty stomachs

When the handouts run out we have to endure days of empty stomachs. The children are frequently sent away from school for non-payment of school fees. Life is so hopeless that I have ceased to see its purpose.

She said she has been in and out of the social welfare offices, but nothing has materialised.

Food handouts are inadequate and undependable but I am grateful to a local businessman (Samuel Chiripanyanga) and Plan International (A non-governmental organisation) who are doing their best to save us from hunger, said Margaret with her eyes drenched in tears.

It is painful that God can punish me in this way. The most painful thing is to nurse those children only to watch them die just like that. No amount of medicine can save them. Now I have this burden, she said.

Margaret reflects on her predicament wondering who will look after the orphans when she also finally dies.

I have been burying a lot of my children who die leaving virtually nothing for me to fall back on.

Zimbabwe with an approximate population of 12,5 million has an estimated 1,2 million people infected with HIV. Experts say HIV/Aids related deaths have reached a peak of 3 800 a week and may create millions of orphans by 2010.

Various efforts to minimise the worsening social disease appear to have been overwhelmed that the affected families have lost any hope of a happy life.

Food rations

A local businessman Chiripanyanga who owns some shops and runs a fleet of commuter omnibuses said he was supplying food rations to Margarets household.

I have been giving her some mealie-meal and other basic groceries at some occasions. I will continue assisting her if my stocks and profits are well. I cannot promise to give them groceries every time but I will supply them with the groceries if business in my shops is improving. She is one of us and I feel pity for her, but she is a strong woman, said Chiripanyanga.

A representative from Plan International, Reason Dahwa, said the organisation had feeding programmes in various constituencies. He said Margaret was benefiting from the programmes.

We have feeding programmes where we are giving rural communities beans and mealie-meal. Margaret is one of the beneficiaries. We will continue supplying food rations to her, he said.

Effort to get a comment from the Member of Parliament for Mutare South that houses Zimunya, Fred Kanzama, proved fruitless as his mobile phone was continuously unavailable.

The Methodist Church in Mutare has said it will discuss Margarets plight and definitely do something to help her.

Moses Mutenda a representative from the church said: We have taken note of that. As a church we will soon have a meeting and observe all protocols so that we can assist the old woman.

Tervin Mukonoweshuro, the chairman of Youth Alliance a local youth forum said: We are going to make a visit to her place. We are going to interview her and find ways of how we can assist.

Margaret hopes that one day the heavens will open on her. She has vowed to work extra hard to look after the family.

This is the silent suffering taking place in our communities, but this is the reality of the world we are living in, said Margaret.

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