GETTING old is synonymous with growing wiser and better, but not so for thousands of the aged in Zimbabwe.
By Feluna Nleya
Faced with a grim economy, the aged in the country have become poorer with reports that most of them are going without basics, making their lives miserable.
In most instances some old people who are not in old people’s homes suffer from chronic illnesses and other diseases associated with old age, and yet they have a heavier burden of looking after their grandchildren whose parents long departed due to HIV and Aids related illnesses.
HIV and Aids has affected older persons in a very big way as they have become carers of orphans and vulnerable children (OVC), as well as other sick family members.
According to Unicef, 60% of OVC are in the care of older persons in Zimbabwe and this places a heavy burden on them.
Lack of family and adequate accommodation is also affecting older persons, resulting in some of them being sent to old peoples’ homes for the rest of their lives.
The disappearance of the extended family network has also contributed to older persons being destitute in their old age, among many other reasons.
A visit to one of the old people’s homes in the capital showed that the elderly were facing a number of challenges.
Society for the Destitute Aged (Soda) matron, Constance Mukize said the home has 23 elderly persons. Of these 21 are men and two are women.
“We rely on donations,” Mukize said.
“People come in with their donations and that is what keeps us going. In terms of food, we are trying but when it comes to cash that is when we face challenges.”
She said while they were treated by doctors for free, the trouble came when they had to buy the medication which was not provided. “That is where we face challenges when it comes to treatment.”
“I try by all means to feed them, whatever I get is what I give them but I make sure that they get something to eat.”
Lives of the older persons could be much better if they received a grant from government.
In Zimbabwe, the old people do not receive grants as is the case in other countries. Older persons who get an allowance are those who are pensioners who receive a monthly allowance from NSSA.
Maxwell Tendai (65), who is living at Soda said they were facing challenges as older persons but he was lucky that he was getting a pension from NSSA.
Tendai, who is from Mozambique and could not remember when he came to Zimbabwe, said he came here after having worked in Johannesburg for some time.
He said he first worked at a dry cleaning shop which was shut down and later on worked at Flamingo, also dry cleaners.
“I only had two children whom I left in Mozambique, but I lost contact with them a long time ago when I came to Zimbabwe,” Tendai said.
“I never had a family here in Zimbabwe, so after I was retired from Flamingo and I had nowhere to go and that is how I came to be here at the home.”
“I receive US$60 a month from NSSA and that at least keeps me going although I am well-catered for here [Soda].”
“The amount that I get from NSSA is not much but at least I get something to keep me going every month.”
But 72-year-old Mpingo Chisare, says he lives the day as it goes by and appreciated that he was well taken care of at the home.
Chisare from Mozambique also came to Zimbabwe in the 1970s to seek employment and never went back home.
“I came to Zimbabwe to work and never went back to Mozambique,” Chisare said.
“I had a wife and two children in Mozambique who were all killed during the war and I never married again.”
Chisare went to Soda in 1993 after falling sick and losing employment, with no one to take care of him.
“I don’t receive any pension, or any money from government but I thank God that I am being taken care of here,” Chisare said.
HelpAge director Priscilla Gavi said older persons in institutions were covered by institutional grants administered through the Department of Social Services, but these were sometimes inconsistent that the real benefit is not realised.
“Older persons face so many challenges in their day-to-day lives,” Gavi said.
“Major problems are inadequate food supplies which seriously affect their nutrition and health status. Linked to that is the poor health associated with ageing in most cases, chronic illnesses affect older persons to the point of causing disability among some, especially issues to do with eye sight and other non-communicable diseases.”
Gavi said the lack of recognition of the rights of older persons was also another challenge faced by this group.
“All fundamental human rights as given by the United Nations for older persons are being violated on a daily basis,” Gavi said.
“Rights being violated are the right to be cared for, right to have decent accommodation, right to receive treatment and the right to receive attention in emergency situations.”
“Older persons in most cases lack knowledge on their rights as Zimbabwean citizens and often find themselves on the receiving end of maltreatment.”
Gavi said more still needs to be done by government in order to alleviate the suffering of older persons.
“Introduction of a universal pension for older persons is the first step towards restoring dignity and self-sufficiency of older persons,” she said.
“The Older Persons Act of 2012 was the greatest achievement made by Government so far in trying to address the rights of older persons in Zimbabwe.”
“Older persons in institutions are covered by institutional grants administered through the Department of Social Services but these are sometimes so inconsistent that the real benefit is not realised.”