Sophia Chese and Monica Cheru-Mpambawashe
Across the world there are worries about ageing populations. The United States has robust gerontology institutions that look into matters that affect the aged and the ageing. The different branches look at everything from diseases that affect the aged like dementia to cosmetic procedures to allow those who have been around for a while to try and keep their youthful looks or even improve on them.A local organisation, Power of Touch, has stepped up to look at ways of assisting pensioners by helping them to get discounts whenever they want to purchase something. POT Founder Ms Beatrice Sithole said her organisation is not offering charity but working towards allowing pensioners to stretch their dollar further.
“The Power of Touch, aka Senior Citizens Haven, was launched in October 2016. This institution was formed to assist senior members (age 55 and above) to continue getting all the services from various service providers at a discount,” said Ms Sithole.
Although the last census showed that Zimbabwe has a young population rather than the aged population headaches of the developed world where there are fewer young people who are still productive versus more old people who need extra care, it is a fact that of the old people that are there in the country few are prepared for comfortable retirement.
Part of the problem has been that of cultural dynamism and HIV. In the past it was socially accepted that if one empowered their male offspring, those same offspring would be one’s pension. Children, especially male children were expected to look after their parents as soon as they entered gainful employment of any description.
Thus people who were not in formal employment had ready-made social nets. But nowadays some people are turning their backs away on their aged parents. Some popular church leaders have been blamed for psychologically brainwashing followers into looking upon the said leaders as their parents while neglecting their biological progenitors.
Before the advent of widespread use of ARVs, HIV decimated the most productive age groups.
Many of those should have been looking after their aged parents died themselves.
Most of them also left behind children forcing the aged parents to try and become breadwinners at a time when they were meant to retire. Aged people in rural areas are also faced with having to continue carrying out hard manual labour even when their bodies have grown frail.
Hyper inflation and the adoption of the multi-currency regime eroded most of the pensions that those in formal employment did not fare much better than their counterparts. Current pension payouts generally range between $40 and $100 which is hardly enough for a comfortable lifestyle. This is where POT comes in as it looks at calling on organisations’ consciences so that special discounts are given to pensioners.
Addressing pensioners at a high tea hosted by Power of Touch, the organisation’s spokesperson, Mr Cecil Garapo, said looking at the current economic situation they have seen it fit to assist the elderly in the society by making it easier for them to access basic commodities.
Mr Garapo highlighted that they are negotiating with a number of companies which are willing to work with them in making the lives of the elderly easier.
“We have seen that the elderly people in our communities are finding the going tough when it comes to the issue of accessing basic commodities because they do not have money to buy since most of them are pensioners so we have come up with a initiative that is meant to make the lives of these people much easier and we would like to thank the companies that have come on board to assist us,” he said.
He said it would be premature to name the good Samaritan companies for now.
“We are still on negotiating terms with most of the companies so we cannot reveal the names yet but be assured that all is in the right direction and we will reveal the names as soon as we finalise the negotiations so that the elderly will be able to buy basic commodities on discount,” he said.
The move was well received by the elderly people who attended the function, saying the move was really a miracle and an answered prayer to most of them who had been struggling to make ends meet.
“Life has not been easy for me. I look after my grandson who is now doing his A-Levels. Trying to keep up with his needs is hard. He must eat, go to school and many other things that young people these days need. Sport is so expensive and I do not want him to miss out on exploring his talent because he is an orphan.
“I am also not in very good health and medical bills are so high. Discounts for the aged will help make my money go further. I only wish it could go into all areas like power and municipal bills,” said one senior citizen who declined to be named.
The Government is currently looking at legislating social welfare grants for the aged. Senior citizens are also exempted from standing in queues and access free medical consultation at public institutions. But they generally have to buy medication from private pharmacies.
Although there are several homes for the aged in the country, there are still too many left out in the cold. Several corporate organizations routinely give hampers and throw parties for the aged during Christmas time. But most homes struggle to provide a comfortable life for their inmates.
Private retirement homes are beyond the reach of many as their monthly charges are beyond the income levels of many Zimbabweans.
Zimbabwe’s population is predicted to boom over the next two decades with experts saying that food and other basics may become a challenge unless adequate planning is done.