WASHINGTON DC —
For most people, life after retirement should be happy and fulfilling, interesting and rewarding, especially after years of working hard.
Over the years they focused on finances, expecting to start harvesting the fruits of their hard labor in a new life entirely dependent on pension schemes run by the state, private companies and parastatals.
The situation for most pensioners the world over is changing as governments have started altering retirement ages due to the international financial crisis.
In Zimbabwe the situation is worse. Getting old has become a nightmare as wincingly wrinkled pensioners trek back to work to make a living due to circumstances beyond their control.
But most of them are now unemployable.
Former flamboyant Lever Brothers salesman, Collier Gumbochuma, 71, is looking for work, 16 years after he left formal employment.
Gumbochuma, who now lives in his remote rural home in Zvishavane, Midlands province, has not yet benefited from any pension scheme he contributed to.
He is currently looking for work though he fears that no-one will ever employ him.
“Nobody is prepared to employ a grave like me,” says Gumbochuma. “Now at my age, no one is prepared at all not even Help Age International which takes care of the elderly in Zimbabwe. They say you are too old … they don’t even look at you.”
NATIONAL SOCIAL SECURITY
Gumbochuma has just been told by the state-run National Social Security Authority (NSSA) that he is eligible for a pension for the seven years he worked in the formal sector as he used to change jobs at will.
“I was registered by NSSA this year. They said they will pay me but they did not specify how much money I am entitled to,” he said.
Gumbochuma is among thousands of Zimbabwean pensioners trekking back to work as life has become difficult without a reasonable pension.
Most pension schemes in Zimbabwe collapsed when the Zimbabwe dollar weakened significantly due to hyperinflation, which according to the International Monetary Fund, reached 500 billion percent in 2008.
Some pensioners currently earn as little as 20 dollars a month while others are failing to access their pensions.
Labor expert, Davies Ndumiso Sibanda, says this has forced senior citizens to seek employment.
“It’s quite a large number of people going back to work. It’s all out of desperation,” says Sibanda. “Everyone is returning and looking for a job.”
He says the situation is worsened by current company closures and firms that failed to remit pensions as prescribed by the laws of Zimbabwe.
“Large numbers of companies have failed to pay. There is no remittance at all,” says Sibanda.
RAILWAY PENSION FUND
A board member of the National Railways of Zimbabwe Contributory Pension Fund, Abednico Moyo, agrees, noting that the majority of former railway employees, who retired between 2007 and 2008, are looking for work due to unsustainable pensions.
They are getting as little as $32 per month while early retirees and those who left after dollarization take home between $400 and $500 per month.
“Pensioners are going back to work and most of them are being absorbed by the Beitbridge-Bulawayo Railway Company which is not paying them living wages,” he said.
Retired senior NRZ managers are getting pensions of up to $1,000 a month. But, according to Moyo, the majority of pensioners have to reboot their degenerating bodies to sustain their lives.
“It is very dangerous to work at that age. These people can no longer concentrate well at work,” said Moyo.
Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) President George Nkiwane, echoes the same sentiment, saying it is sad that most pensioners are trekking back to work due to lack of income.
“Imagine someone over 65 years old going back to work,” he said. “The body will be weak and in most cases there are no jobs for such people.”
He says hundreds of pensioners are seeking help from the ZCTU after failing to access their pensions. He says these people need help from the Department of Social Welfare.
“This department should put safety nets for such people even if it does not have money,” adds Nkiwane.
But for some retirees, there is a happy ending. A case in point is that of Lulu McKenzie, a former temporary Rhodesian government employee who went back to work at 80 but has since stopped working.
She is leading an almost normal life though she did not get a pension.
“I worked for government for 35 years, for a farmer for 30 years and for a private firm for five years after retirement. I worked until I was 82 years old,” she told VOA.
She says her last employer is paying her rent at an upmarket lodge in Masvingo town.
“I am very happy. I stay in a little cottage and my previous employer pays rent. My kids buy other things for me.”
Policy analyst and researcher, Butler Tambo, of the Policy Research Institute of Zimbabwe, says corruption, the collapse of the Zimbabwe dollar and poor investment decisions devastated pension schemes.
“There is a lot of corruption and also bad decisions made by companies are to blame for problems being faced by pensioners,” said Tambo.
“To make matters worse, some pensioners who also made bad investment decisions after getting pensions are to blame for their predicament”
He says the way forward is to eliminate corruption in Zimbabwe and ensure that NSSA makes prudent investment decisions.
NSSA and the National Railways of Zimbabwe have acknowledged that there are facing challenges in administering pension funds with NSSA accusing some companies of failing to remit funds they deduct from the workers’ salaries.
NSSA has been accused by parliament of poorly investing pension funds with senior managers said to be awarding each other cheap loans at the expense of ordinary workers.
Executives of both entities were not readily available for comment.