The greatest honour that any government would ever give to its citizens is the right to freely express their thoughts and feelings concerning issues that affect them and offer possible solutions.
On June 15 and 16 the Parliament of Zimbabwe, HelpAge Zimbabwe, in partnership with the Protracted Relief Programme, conducted public hearings on the Older Persons Bill in Zvishavane and Hwedza respectively.
This was the first time, since 2002, when the Older Persons Bill was drafted, that Parliament, through the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Labour and Social
Services, had to seek the views of older persons.
The over 200 elderly persons who attended each of the public hearings expressed their joy to have an opportunity to speak face to face with the more than 10 parliamentarians who conducted the public hearings led by the chairperson of the committee, Mrs Margaret Zinyemba.
Mbuya Pedzisai of Mutambi village, Zvishavane, was happy that Parliament had been brought to them and that she considered herself a “Member of Parliament” as she could contribute and or participate in policy formulation.
Mr Musutu, an active member of the older persons committees in Zvishavane, said: “Parliament has heard of old people’s plight. Today they heard our plea, and we are therefore hopeful that they will come up with policies that will meet our needs and the needs of orphans under our care.”
He added: “There is no more evidence on the plight of older persons that policymakers would want. They have met the affected persons, even youths and other population groups who participated in this activity testified on the plight of older persons in Zimbabwe. Older persons have waited way too long for the enactment of the Older Persons Bill.”
The need for the Government to provide universal pensions, health assistance and support in terms of food provision and orphan care support were spelt out clearly.
A number of older persons in Zimbabwe have been employed as gardeners, cooks and other menial jobs.
Such forms of employment do not offer any form of social security in retirement.
The majority of these older persons have even lost their children to Aids.
The economic challenges that Zimbabwe has faced in the past years have seen very few children sending remittances to their parents. Others are even failing to shoulder their immediate family members.
Universal pensions offered by Government will go a long way in reducing poverty associated with ageing.
It will also enhance the caring role of older persons to orphans and vulnerable children.
In Zimbabwe, 60 percent of orphans and vulnerable children are under the care of older persons, and yet older persons do this without even the necessary resources to do so.
The Older Persons Bill 2011 is currently proposing for the provision of social welfare assistance, which will only be handed out upon application by destitute and vulnerable older persons.
In the public hearings conducted in Zvishavane and Hwedza, older persons specifically requested for the Government to give them universal pensions.
Some older persons even mentioned that they had sold their assets, in the form of cattle and goats among other livestock, all in an effort to look after their children and orphans under their care.
Older persons also demanded that the Bill should cover all persons aged 60 years and above and not use the 65 year-plus being proposed.
Some older persons also indicated that issues to do with care and support for older persons should include long- and short-term assistance.
At the moment short-term needs were specifically highlighted as food assistance, clothing including blankets and other basic necessities.
Long-term assistance will then look into issues to do with access to health facilities and finances to support income-generating projects.
Other older persons highlighted that the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare should review the nurse training curriculum to include paediatrics and geriatrics training.
Concerning a board or commission to further look into the needs and welfare of older persons in the country, older persons noted that this was a worthwhile move which is long overdue.
However, they called for the representation of older persons at all stages, from ward level to Cabinet.
This, they indicated, will ensure that issues that affect older persons will be articulated and receive due recognition at all stages.
Other emerging issues include the provision of water and sanitation facilities that can be accessed by older persons, the need for healthy needs to be fully covered as older persons are currently only receiving consultation services from Government hospitals and they have to purchase medication on their own.
Extended support in line with their caring role for orphans and other vulnerable children is one of older people’s demands.
The parliamentarians allowed older persons to air their problems freely to be able to get the true picture of the plight of older persons.
On transport, older persons said their travelling costs within Zimbabwe should be free as they have gone past the age of enjoying free rides but that they only travel when it is necessary and that their ID should become their bus tickets.
The Minister of Labour and Social Services is now expected to present the Older Persons Bill to Parliament for its second reading. Thereafter, the Bill will be open for debate in the House of Assembly.
Drafting of the Older Persons Bill in 2002 indicated Government commitment to meet the needs of older persons in Zimbabwe.
However, a number of older persons during public hearings felt that the commitment to ensure a healthy and comfortable later life has since gone. The Older Persons Bill has taken painfully too long to be enacted, amid many other Bills that have been swiftly drafted and enacted into law.
It is instructive to acknowledge that older persons have played a critical role to the development of Zimbabwe in their different roles.
They have made numerous contributions and yet today their lives are punctuated with numerous and daunting challenges that many come face to face everyday.
They continue to soldier on without knowing the day their plight will come to an end.
- Conrad Gweru is the Advocacy and Communications Officer, HelpAge Zimbabwe. Contact him at email@example.com