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Old People's Homes Struggle To Help Zimbabwe's Neglected Senior Citizens

Family taking care of elderly patient recovering from eye surgery.

Zimbabwe’s elderly citizens account for about 6% of the country’s population, according to Help Age Zimbabwe, the leading national organization catering to the needs of senior citizens. However, the twilight years of many of the nation’s grandparents, and aging aunts and uncles, is worrisome Adonis Five of Help Age Zimbabwe, said, and is urging the government to do more for its senior citizens.

“The government of Zimbabwe is not actually giving the older person,” said Five, “And as Help Age Zimbabwe…we are basically advocating for the introduction of universal pension for all older persons in Zimbabwe.”

Older persons, said Five, is any person over the age of 60.

“We adopted the UN [United Nations] definition which is anyone 60-years-plus, becomes an older person. We are saying that everybody who is now 60-years and above should be able to get some assistance from the government.”

However, many of the country’s elderly say they don’t get any government assistance, and some even find themselves alone and living in assisted living facilities like Makoni Old People’s Home in Rusape. This is were Bernard Petro, Twin James and Mero Ngirazi, all former farm laborers around the Nyazura and Headlands area before the 2000 farm seizures, live. Another is Zororai Old People’s Home in Sakubva, Mutare, the home of retiree, Nelson Langeveldt.

Bernard Petro, Twin James and Mero Ngirazi, who said they can’t remember their ages, don’t have family they can rely on, as they lost track of them in Mozambique where they came from, since moving to Zimbabwe well before its 1980 independence .

Langeveldt, is a former artisan with the city of Harare, and discouraged by his plight, living at Zororai Old People Home. He says the government should assist those over 65, like him, by giving them a monthly pension to cushion them from the economic hardships as is done in other countries.

“These old people need some money of their own,” he said, “to be free in activity and in action.”

Langeveldt worries that equally elderly people, including 91-year old President Robert Mugabe and his colleagues in government, overlook the plight of their fellow elderly. He says they should cease working and retire.

“All over the world, [we know they give] some social help, financial help, for old age…those chaps are old man, they are still working. What for?” Langeveldt asked.

He says he doubts they will end up in a home like him, when they retire, as they have other options.

“I suggest they go through that screen and ministry must, government must change.”

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The chairperson of Makoni Old People’s Home, Portiphar Guta, says the home has been running with the help of volunteers as there is no funding for fulltime staff. She says often they get help from the business people in the form of coffins following the death of an elderly person.

“People are always generous and always eager and keen to come support. But by and large we are very happy, (with the support we get) from the church community, from the business community, from the Indian community in Rusape, and many other well wishers, and schools,” Guta said.

The Matron of Zororai Old People’s Home Sr Blandina Mariko of the Roma Catholic Church says they are constrained when it comes to food provisions, money to get full time staff to look after the elderly.

“At the moment we don’t have money for salaries for our workers. At the present moment, we have got voluntaries. They work from 7 o’clock to 4 o’clock. We don’t have those for night shift, especially now. These days, we’ve got some who are not well and they don’t have anyone to look after them during the night. The position we leave them at 4 o’clock, is the position we’ll see them.”

Blandina appeals for assistance to kick start a self-help project or program in market gardening, poultry for self-sustenance at the home.

“If we could have money to have projects, self-sustainable project like looking about broilers, we have them but in small scale, layers, market gardening, I am sure this will help us keep the home going well.

At Makoni old people’s home there are 11 elderly people - 10 males and one female, while 20-elderly people live at Zororai Old People’s Home.