Poverty corrodes family life

mbare_homesWhen the Missionaries of Charity in their blue-and-white Indian saris walk around Mbare they are on the lookout for old and abandoned people nobody else will take care of. Sometimes Social Welfare asks them to take an old man or woman left stranded without any family connection, mostly former migrant labourers from Malawi or Mozambique.

What they do not want to do is to free families from the burden and responsibility of looking after their old parents and grandparents.

Some old and frail, sometimes blind or even mentally disturbed people are handed over to them with the assurance there is nobody to take care of them. The spouse has died, the children are said to have left the country or succumbed to HIV/AIDS. But then after a while relatives, said to be non-existent, do come to see the old people.

Why do they not take them home and look after them? Shona culture is proud of its respect for the old and the loving care it gives them, not needing old age homes as dumping grounds.

But in fact some families do dump their old parents and get rid of their grandparents, uncles and aunts. Moral decay? Maybe. But there are perhaps some more tangible economic reasons for this strange behaviour, so much in conflict with tradition.

Operation Murambatsvina (2005) has reduced living space drastically. Many homes are severely overcrowded. There is no room for ambuya and sekuru.

Unemployment is still extremely high. Many husbands and wives, fathers and mothers have left for South Africa. Those left behind eke out a living by street vending. It may just be enough for the parents and children. But not for the elderly, the sick and frail who need frequent trips to the clinic.

Many people think we are on the road to recovery because the Zimdollar inflation has stopped. Not at all. There is still very little production. We live from charity and handouts from elsewhere.

This does not seem to impress the leadership. The usual infighting goes on and on. Striking teachers told us, We were threatened. If we do not join the industrial action we can expect to be attacked in our homes.

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