Zimbabwe forgets its aged

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THE world commemorated the International Day of the Elderly on October 1, but in Zimbabwe the day went by unnoticed with no commemorations staged at a national stage.

NQOBANI NDLOVU
STAFF REPORTER

This is one day the government seems to have forgotten as politics takes a more prominent role in everyday life.

Seventy-six-year old Sharon Sibanda of Pumula North in Bulawayo professed ignorance about the day, but pointed out that the government had neglected the elderly in society most of who live in abject poverty.

“I survive by the grace of God,” Sibanda, who looks after her three young grandchildren left by her daughter who died a few years ago, said.

So dire is her situation that Sibanda stays in one room with her grandchildren as her only source of income is $120 she gets from tenants renting two rooms in her house.

Sibanda said she augments this meagre income by selling tomatoes and sweets.

“I worry too much what will happen to my grandchildren when I die,” she said. “The government should be taking care of us the elderly by giving us food and other social grants to survive.

“I am too old to be working to take care of myself, let alone dependents.”

She said the International Day of the Elderly should be commemorated in Zimbabwe to highlight the desperate condition of the country’s senior citizens.

This year’s commemorations were held under the theme “The future we want: What older persons are saying” to draw attention to place the issue of ageing on the international development agenda.

The day was first commemorated in 1990 after the establishment of the United Nations World Assembly on Ageing to explore and tend to the needs of the elderly worldwide.

This year’s commemorations were held under the theme “The future we want: What older persons are saying” to draw attention on the plight of the aged and to place the issue of ageing on the international development agenda.

Hezekiah Mnkandla, approaching 80 years, said the plight of the elderly in society has been further worsened by the HIV and Aids scourge.

Mnkandla said at a time in their lives when they themselves needed support and care from their children and grandchildren, they were the ones who have to look after their sick children or orphaned grandchildren.

A 2007 report by the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund and Help Age International said statistics showed that up to two thirds of people living with HIV and Aids worldwide are cared for by parents in their 60s and 70s.

“I have lived a life of no rest,” Mnkandla said. “Instead of me now resting after years of toiling, I spend my time worrying about where I will beg for the next meal.

“We depend on the generosity of churches, neighbours and other well-wishers for food and clothing. And sadly, most of us at our age are taking care of orphans,” Mnkandla said.

Analysts said there should be a deliberate policy making it mandatory for the government to take care of the elderly whose plight is worsened by the hostile economic climate.

“The Zimbabwe economic situation is hostile to the elderly,” Rodrick Fayayo, co-ordinator of the Bulawayo Progressive Residents’ Association (BPRA) said.

“At national level there is a need to ensure there is a policy that makes it mandatory for them to get some social assistance from the government. It should be their right and not a favour from someone.”

Fayayo said a survey by the BPRA in Bulawayo shows that “a good number of them (elderly) have no electricity and no running water because they cannot afford the bills”.

Dumisani Nkomo, an activist and chief executive officer of Christian-based Habbakuk Trust, weighed in saying the government should immediately implement provisions in the new Constitution to ensure the elderly are well taken care of.

“The new provisions which emphasise the role of the State in ensuring the elderly receive reasonable care should be implemented,” Nkomo said.

“Pension benefits of the elderly should be protected because a lot of buildings and shopping centres were built using pension funds and yet they are wallowing in poverty. Social safety nets should be put in place by the government to ensure the elderly live in dignity,” Nkomo added.