“The President lives well and everything is fine for him but what about the other old people in this country? If he was a resident in this home, would he be satisfied with the state of affairs?” 77-year-old Nelson Langeveldt would like the President to answer this question.
A former farm owner and retired City of Harare technician, Langeveldt says it is ironic that Mugabe, who turned 91 in February this year, receives a great deal of health attention abroad. There are frequent reports of his visits to Singapore for regular eyesight and ailments check-ups and other unidentified medical treatment due to his advanced age.
“For this very reason one would think that the elderly would be afforded more attention, especially in terms of their diet, health care, accommodation and clothing,” said Langeveldt, who is of the view that the ageing leader should be very familiar with the concerns of the elderly and that he should therefore be conscious of their plight.
“For example, the President must be aware that there are many thousands in his age group who worked very hard for this country and who are now in dire need of assistance,” he said.
Although Langeveldt is content with the little that he gets from well-wishers, he feels strongly that the government has neglected the elderly.
He said government should allocate regular grants to the elderly like other neighbouring countries. He also urged that the elderly be represented in government.
“There are many elderly people who are educated and who are on pension. There are ex-teachers, governors and so on. These people would best represent the elderly in government because present officers of the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare are not up to the task. Yes, we understand that things are hard economically, but if we don’t have money and the government says they don’t have any either, where is the money going to come from?” he asked.
He also said the Pension Fund should be increased, taking into consideration the fact that most elderly folks have extended families to fend for.
His views were echoed by several other elderly people interviewed during a national tour of old people’s homes jointly organised by Humanitarian Information Facilitation Centre (HIFIC) and HelpAge Zimbabwe.
Not a penny
“We need assistance from government. We worked for this country. Though I’m originally from Malawi, I came here in 1970, but I worked hard for years until 1999 when I injured my leg. I don’t receive a penny from NSSA. Government should consider us like they do in other countries where the elderly are given grants,” said Bauline Jerimani from Malawi, adding that a Pension Fund or old age grants would have enabled him to return to his family in Malawi.
Moses Tsenga Tsenga, 73, of Mozambique who came to Zimbabwe in 1942 has an eyesight problem due to old age. He contributed towards the development of the country and said: “If there is one thing that we want from government, it is a grant for old people. We worked for this country and the government should take care of us now. Yes, we have a place to stay here at Zororai, but we still need money to buy foods or to get medical check-ups.”
Carmelite (HLMC) Sister Blandina Mariko, who is in charge of Zororai – home to 20 old people – said they received little financial support from government and that, at times, it takes government two to three years to disburse grants. The last time this home received any funds was last year.
“It would be better if we received government grants on a monthly basis. It’s not a lot of money, but it would go a long way to support the home. At the moment the grants can take two to three years to arrive,” she said.
The government allocates a mere $15 to each elderly person. Sister Mariko said that this had greatly affected the home as they did not have money to pay employees, which in turn compromised the care available to the elderly.
Makoni Old People’s Home volunteer committee chairperson and Rusape Fact director, Portipher Gutu, said they depended solely on hand-outs.
Historically, the government has depended on the international donor community to support its elderly. However, events in the past few years have seen a reduction in this type of financial support due to donor fatigue.
Several NPO’s that specialise in the welfare of the elderly, have been raising awareness on the need for domestic donors. “There is now a great challenge to source funding from the international community to cater for the elderly because donors are saying we should get funding from our own government.” said HAZ programmes manager, Faifi Adonis.
“This situation is exacerbated by the fact that the government has failed at this and so, at the end of the day, it is the elderly community that suffers,” he added.
They are currently advocating for the introduction of a universal pension to be allocated to the elderly. “Help Age Zimbabwe is advocating on behalf of the elderly and advocating for the introduction of the universal pension given to all persons older than 65,” he added.
The elderly constitute 7% of the total population, estimated to 14 million according to the 2012 Census, which translates to 800,000 old people.
HAZ operates a number of projects in its efforts to make older persons as self-sufficient as possible. Together with strategic partners, it has been working towards the smooth implementation of the Older Persons Act in an effort to improve the lives of older people.
John Mutikizizi Old People home in located rural Bikita district in Masvingo epitomizes the sorry state of old people’s homes around the country.
Located on a barren piece of land, the centre is home to five elderly women and one man. Some of the women elderly here were shunned by communities as witchcraft practitioners. Life for them has become unbearable.
“During the night, we feel very cold because we do not have enough blankets. We also walk bare footed because we do not have shoes or warm clothes. Sometimes, we eat once per day because we do not have enough food,” said Sophia Gwaimana, one of the longest serving residents who cannot remember her age and has eyesight problems.
Mutikizizi, the founder and director of the centre, has been single-handedly running it through donations from well-wishers and his personal resources.
“We last received government grants more than five years ago. Food shortage and transport to ferry the sick patients to nearby health centres is one of our major challenges,” he said.Post published in: Analysis