OLDER persons who need to be looked after have taken the burden of taking care of children especially those orphaned by HIV and Aids.
They are supposed to be highly respected in society but this recognition is slowly fading in Zimbabwe, because of lack of policies and resources to cater for the elderly.
Organisations that represent the welfare of the elderly decry lack of resources and social support services for the welfare of old persons.
Enacy Chumba (63) who takes care of six grandchildren lives in a makeshift house in Hatcliff Extension.
The cold weather forces Chumba and her grandchildren to cuddle themselves in a corner trying to keep themselves warm, wrapped in torn blankets.
For more than 10 years she has been living in this makeshift structure with her husband and six grandchildren.
“I started living here in 2001 when we acquired this stand but until now we have not built a proper house. I am just sharing these two plastic shacks with my grandchildren who were leftby their mother,” Chumba explained.
“Life is very difficult for us, we hardly have food or soap. During the rainy season our house leaks and we sleep on wet floors without proper blankets.”
Of the six children she takes care of, the eldest is a 14 year old girl. The other five are boys.
“We sometimes survive on money we get after doing menial jobs,” said Chumba. “It is our hope that government will put in place policies to help us especially with funds or projects so that we can sustain ourselves.”
This is one of the many stories in the world where elderly people must take care of their grandchildren in a struggling economy.
Director of the Centre for Community Development Solutions and Coordinator of the National Ageing Network of Zimbabwe, Marck Chikanza said elderly people found it hard to survive in Zimbabwe.
“Elderly persons continue to work right into their graves and are not recognised for the different roles they play in society like food production, caring for the sick and orphaned children,” he said.
“The elderly form a significant number of productive farmers in this country; however their contribution to food security is often ignored.”
Chikanza said there was no funding for the elderly and called for the compensation of elderly persons who lost their life savings during the hyperinflationary period.
The Older Person’s Bill was first drafted in 2002 but was only enacted into law in 2012.
But organisations that represent the welfare of the elderly say more needs to be done to align the Act to the new constitution.
“Reasonable willingness to address the issue of ageing has been demonstrated through the enactment of the Act and the mentioning of the elderly in the constitution. There is therefore room for more substantial provisions to be made in the future which however requires a lot of political and social will,” said Chikanza.
He urged government to have a specific budgetary allocation for the care of the elderly, exemption from payment of all forms of taxes at both national and local levels and a policy framework to operationalise the Act.
Help Age Programmes Manager, Adonis Faifi, said Zimbabwe was still a long way to fully cater for the welfare of the elderly.
“The donor funds are getting more difficult to access, hence the need for home grown solutions to take care of our own people and with the current economic challenges facing Zimbabwe, it seems it will take some time for Zimbabwe to fully support this marginalised and vulnerable group,” he said.
Faifi however noted that most elderly people were not aware of the provisions of the Act.
Chairperson for both the Zimbabwe Older Persons Organisation and Older Persons Board, Jonathan Mandaza said the organisation was failing to meet its obligation because of lack of funding.
“Indeed the board has been in place for almost a year, but only met once for the inauguration. It has not been able to meet and deal with its mandate due to lack of funding,” he said
“We hope to alleviate the suffering of the aged by developing, recommending and implementing policies that guard ageing, beyond the current aged.”
Mandaza said the fact that the board only met once for the inauguration on 17 October 2013 was a serious challenge on its own.
—BY HAZVINEI MWANAKA