Plight of elderly worsens

For many people 10 pm is a time to rest in the comfort of their beds, but certainly not for 65-year-old ex-gardener Rex Jamu - who has to endure cold nights along First Street in Harare.

Family structures that used to provide care for the elderly have broken down across all spectrums of society.

Family structures that used to provide care for the elderly have broken down across all spectrums of society.

Jamu has sad tales to tell. “I came to Zimbabwe in 1969 and worked for a number of companies in the industrial areas of Msasa and Granitesite before becoming a gardener in Greencroft in 1982. In 1983 I moved to Avondale and that is where I was until 2008 when I was retrenched because my employer, Mr Sterling, was going back to England,” he said.

“The new owners of the property said they could not employ me because they already had a gardener. That was the beginning of my problems. I was given my package in Zimbabwe dollars, which quickly disappeared as the country was in the hyper-inflationary era. I could not do anything then. Maybe with hindsight I should have bought foreign currency. But, even then I doubt if that would have done me much good.

Failed to plan
“The disadvantage that we had as gardeners is that we were given accommodation by our employers and that made us relax and fail to plan for our future. Many people who are of my age who were working in industries managed to buy houses – but not so for us who were working in residential areas, farms and mines,” said Jamu.
His predicament is one of many cases of old people who are suffering in Zimbabwe today.

Sevias Mujere is the chairman of the Society for the Destitute (SODA), a non-governmental organisation that provides shelter to homeless old people. He said most of the senior citizens at the home were of foreign origin and had been disowned by their families.

“Some of their children have told us that they have no obligation to look after them because they were not there when they needed a father’s attention. One family in Chihota was very forthright telling us that they would not look after their father because he neglected them – but they asked us to inform them when he dies so that they may bury him,” he said.

Absent fathers
“It is a very sad situation. Currently we have 22 inmates, 20 male and two female. That demographic is telling, it’s because most men abandon their families which is why they are in turn abandoned in old age. As a board we said we will not be judgmental as most have pasts that are not rosy.

Most of our residents come from Mozambique, Zambia and Malawi. You will find that most of them have me as their next of kin,” said Mujere, who is fondly referred to as “father” by SODA residents.

The Mkoba trained teacher who also doubles as the head of up-market Tynwald Primary School, said looking after the old was no stroll in the park and demanded patience, resources and fortitude.

“It’s a very demanding task as one needs to sacrifice a lot. I go to SODA almost every weekend and sometimes I wake up during the night if anyone falls sick. When I get there every one of them has a complaint to make and that can be taxing, but when you get used to it you get satisfaction in that you are impacting positively in society.

A big heart
“The most difficult times is when a member dies but fortunately for us we have an arrangement with Doves Funeral home who have been helpful as part of their corporate responsibility. We process  the papers and they take over everything from there in terms of coffin and the burial.”

“I am originally from Mozambique but I have been away for far too long now to be considered a citizen of that country. I worked on farms in Centenary and Mvurwi but left in 2007 to do odd jobs here until someone told me about this place which caters for the elderly for free and I came here and they took me on board. I am very grateful to this home for taking me here and offering shelter and food. Mujere has a big heart as there are very few people who would take their time caring for the people who are not related to them,” said one elderly resident.

Social worker and journalist Conrad Gweru unlocks some of the causes that have led to deterioration in the life of the senior citizens: “There are a myriad of factors that have contributed to the worsening plight of the elderly.

Family structures that used to provide care and attention have broken down across all spectrums of society. Some had their life savings wiped out in the financial disaster of 2008/09.
 
Society’s obligation
“Most migrant workers who came from neighbouring countries to work on the farms and mines have lost contact with their families back home. The society has an obligation to take care of its elderly because they are past the age of fending  for themselves,” said Gweru.

The importance of caring for the elderly cannot be over emphasised as it is clearly enunciated in the country’s supreme law, the constitution.  Chapter 21 (1) states that the “state and institutions and agencies of government at every level must take reasonable measures, including legislative measures, to secure respect, support and protection for elderly persons and to enable them to participate in the life of their communities.”
And more importantly chapter 21 (1b) speaks specifically on the needs of the elderly.

“The state and all institutions and agencies of government at every level must endeavour within the limits of resources available to them  to provide facilities, food and social care for elderly persons who are in need,” it says.
The Minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, Prisca Mupfumira, said while the state of the poor old people in the country was deplorable, her ministry was hamstrung by the precarious financial position of government.

“Of course we are not happy with how the old people are suffering but there is very little we can do the government is financially constrained. But we try to help where ever we can. At the moment we are giving $15 to the elderly who are eligible to receive the grants.

We look at the person’s background and ascertain whether they have no one to assist them. It is a vigorous exercise and due to lack of funds only a few get it,” she said.

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