A curse to be old in Zim today

Rudo Tenenga believes that it is a curse to be old in Zimbabwe. She envies the way elderly people are treated in developed countries.

Rudo Tenenga: They are the ones who raised you and now is the time to show them some love.
Rudo Tenenga: They are the ones who raised you and now is the time to show them some love.

“Their social, economic and health needs are well catered for by the government of the day, In Zimbabwe, the government is failing to protect and provide for its elderly citizens,” said Tenenga, , founder of Chitungwiza Old People’s Association of Zimbabwe.

She told The Zimbabwean that although growing old meant earning the respect of the young, old people in Zimbabwe were treated like society’s outcasts and young people took advantage of their vulnerability.

Unity of purpose

“The majority of old people die like paupers and this is what motivated me to form this organisation,” she said. The Zimbabwe Statistical Agency reported that the elderly constitute seven percent of Zimbabwe’s total population.

Tenenga, 62, said her organisation, with a membership of over 3,000 was started in 2011. Membership, drawn from the Chitungwiza’s 25 wards, is open to anyone over 60. “We want to promote the protection of old people’s human rights in society and the country. Old age results in a lot of injustices in society. Close family members perpetrate these injustices. Old people end up destitute because they are too old to seek justice,” said Tenenga. A committee in each ward is responsible for taking care of the elderly who do not have relatives or friends to turn to. “We identified at least four people in every ward who are prepared to visit those who cannot walk and give them the support that they need,” she said.

Suspended

Tenenga said because of elections, 2013 was a challenging year for the organisation’s activities. “Despite the clarity that we are a non-political organisation, we were shocked when we received a letter of suspension from the district administrator on February 21, 2013” she said.

Nothing to hide

The organisation’s suspension was only lifted on September 23, 2013, in a letter written by Z Chisango, which advised the organisation that their suspension had been lifted. But it cautioned them to ‘desist from any political activity because this had the potential to jeopardise their operations.’

Read the letter: “We also request that you furnish this office with written monthly reports every month end before the 25 of each month.”

Tenenga said because her organisation had the elderly at heart, it was complying. “We have nothing to hide because we are saying this association is for anyone who is old – regardless of their political affiliation,” she said.

She had no kind words for politicians who took advantage of the elderly. “They are good at taking what is meant for the elderly and they have no mercy that these people are sleeping on empty stomachs.”

Tenenga said she would continue working for the elderly until justice prevailed. “Currently, we have established a trust fund to assist the elderly who are most affected by poverty,” she said.

Free graves

Chitungwiza Town Council has chipped in and assured them that any member of the association who dies and wanted to be buried in the town’s graveyard could do so for free.

“This is a positive development because some of our members could not afford to buy the graves. This initiative compliments the partnership that we have made with Old Mutual, which has also agreed to provide funeral cover for our members upon three months subscriptions of $1. We want to thank Old Mutual so much for extending their love to the poor,” she said. Plans are underway to extend the organisation to the areas. “We are catering for old people in Chitungwiza only because we identified this area as our starting point. As soon as we have the capacity, we will move to the rural areas starting with Seke communal lands because we are aware that there are more old people in the rural areas,” she said.

Sad reality

She said her organisation did not have any money but worked with any available resources, no matter how meagre.

“Some of the food that I give to the old people in this community comes from my children. I cannot imagine someone spending more than one week without eating anything,” she said.

She said poverty and failure to put food on their tables was the sad reality for many old people in Chitungwiza, some of whom had come to Zimbabwe from neighbouring countries such as Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia.

“They have no- one and they have no home to go back to. They are a part of us and they deserve our love. Some of them cannot walk and some of them are too sick to even speak. They need a voice,” said Tenenga. Tenenga urged society to embrace and assist the elderly as a way of ploughing back into the community.

“Old people are not useless. They are the ones who raised you and now is the time to show them some love and appreciate what they did. All they need is that care and love. It is not always about the money,” she said.

Government provides retirement pensions for elderly citizens ranging from $20 to $60 monthly. This is woefully inadequate and there are times when the funds are not disbursed on time. The elderly spend a lot of money and time at various banks trying to access their pensions.

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