Rising poverty levels owing to the poor performance of the economy has seen the breakdown of the extended family system in Zimbabwe with families resorting to old people’s homes to care for the elderly, a development which is not only alien, but unfortunately wreaking havoc and turning the society into something unfamiliar and emotionally unhealthy to its most senior members.
Traditionally, the well-being and welfare of the elderly was the responsibility of their children. But this is slowly dyingdue to changing lifestyles, pride, illness and downright nonchalance. There are now homes, something which was an anathema and a preserve of the white community.
The economic factors, coupled with the HIV/AIDS pandemic that is wiping out the younger generation, has meant that children are no longer able to take care of the elderly.
Since the introduction of multi-currency system in 2009, things have gone worse compared to the 80s when children could afford to take up the responsibility of their elders’ welfare, or at least the elderly depending on their pensions.
The struggling economy has brought about a valueless pension scheme that is seriously failing to sustain its intended beneficiaries.
Pensioners, have, according to a survey, been seen earning a paltry USD70 monthly, against a highly inflationary environment with the Poverty Datum Line, ranging from USD300- USD600.
One well known sign of a bad economy is “donor dependency syndrome” which is shown by the increase in donor-funded organisations that have emerged to help the elderly in this country.
This Reporter visited Melfort Old People’s home in Marondera and discovered that most of the people were at the homes not out of their own volition but because of a cocktail of issues and the most dominant being economic factors.
Martin Tambudzai (82) from Chivu is one of the many residents at the home who was brought in by his son who said he could not afford to take care of him.
“I feel neglected and this is against the African culture. Our children are supposed to take care of us but my son cannot,” Tambudzai said.
“This is because of the current economic hardships, my pension could not sustain me and my son could not afford me also. It is sad to see this tradition falling away and witness the suffering and neglect of the elderly and to see some of them being reduced to destitute.
“When we were growing up the elders were there to lead with all their wisdom they would have gained but this has all been washed away since the elderly are now kept in homes away from the society they should lead, this is because our little incomes cannot afford us to stay in the society,” said Tambudzai, adding that there was nothing he could do as his son was also struggling to make a living.
The 82-year old was devastated by his situation of failing to lead a normal life with his children taking care of him.
Most of these elderly revealed that the biggest problem they are facing is the shortage of food, the lack of clothing and general up keep which landed them in homes.
Anna Muchena who settled in Zimbabwe in the 80s, from Mozambique said she came to the old people’s home following the death of her son and husband in 2007.
“My husband, who used to take care of me passed away in 2000 and two years later my son who had taken over the responsibility of looking after me died in a car accident. After that I had no one to look after me until some well wishers brought me here so I must say I am grateful for the support we receive here,” she said.
Garikai Francis, the administrator at Melfort Home said there was a critical food shortage at the home forcing residents to forego some meals.
‘We lack consistent support from the government through the Social Welfare Act of which under this Act, the government is supposed to provide administration grants and grants for individual older persons for their up keep. However due to economic challenges, the government is not able to meet this as often as it is supposed to,” said Francis.
“Apart from food, older persons need proper housing facilities, comfortable beds, support in income generating projects, clothing, blankets and adequate health cover but in most cases we can not afford to give them that, “he added.
Melfort Old People’s home has 22 residents. Nineteen of them are immigrants from the neighbouring countries like Zambia, Malawi, Swaziland and Mozambique..
“These people came into the country looking for employment but they never managed to have stable jobs and families, thus they did not have children who can take care of them, “said Priscilla Gavi, the executive director of Help Age, one of the organisations that supports Melfort Old People’s home.
Gavi also revealed that huge amounts of money are required for them to be able to cater for these elderly.
Zimbabwe has over 50 old people’s homes and each home caters for about 30 people. However, with the prevailing economic situation, it has been increasingly difficult to adequately meet their needs.
Gavi added that without public support it would be an uphill battle to take care of the elderly.
“We are therefore appealing for donations on behalf of these elderly people’s homes. We are appealing to the well wishers for donations so that we can be able to continue supporting these people, “she said.
The Organisation works hand in hand with both local and international donors by initiating income-generation projects meant to sustain old people’s homes.
Help Age Zimbababwe supports a number of Old People’s homes in the country, which include Mazowe, Bridge Old People’s Home in Rushinga and Mutikizizi in Bikita.
The Minister of Labour and Social Services Hon Paurina Mpariwa revealed that the Bill, to make the government responsible for the well being of the elderly, is now with Parliament.
“It is my wish for the parliament to take into consideration the sailing through of the bill into legislation because older people are assets in the community hence they deserve honour,” said Mpariwa.
Popular traditionalist Prof Gordon Chavhunduka also said: “Although the economy is not allowing it is taboo to send your elders to a “home” where they can’t impart knowledge to the young ones.
These elderly should not lead a difficult life like this because they are the leaders of this nation, but this economy is depriving them.
Tradition does not allow people to take their parents to these homes but due to the economic hardships and changes in the living conditions in the country, older people are now left to leave alone in homes or left with the grandchildren because of many challenges including poverty and HIV and Aids pandemic that has affected the young generation