Remember ME - You Me and Dementia

February 17, 2012

ZAMBIA: Old Age - More of a Curse Than a Blessing

LUSAKA / Times of Zambia / Opinion / February 17, 2012

By Chusa Sichone

IF the saying that "old is gold" is anything to go by, then one wonders why senior citizens, particularly in Africa, are not being treated as such.
One major challenge old people face in Zambia, besides being either infected or affected by HIV/AIDS for example, is that of waiting for their terminal benefits for several years after retiring at the age of 55 years.
Most senior citizens have died of depression in the process of waiting for getting their pension dues paid. One would think that with such a scenario then, the best way of resolving the situation is to ensure that the system of paying out pension dues is revised to make it more efficient and cater for the immediate needs of the senior citizens but this is not so.
Unfortunately the common practice for especially those that contribute to pension schemes such as the National Pension Scheme Authority (NAPSA) is that they receive their dues on a monthly basis.
Most pensioners get about K140,000 as their monthly dues from which they are expected to survive but in most cases it proves to be insufficient to meet their daily needs.
For instance, the case of Winstone Chalemba, 67, who is prompted to travel all the way from Chibombo to Lusaka just to get the pension dues mentioned above and sometimes has to spend long hours in never ending queues just to receive that meagre amount.
The sum of K140, 000 is like a drop in the ocean, especially if those that receive it are solely dependent on it as their only source of income and at the same time are facing the burden of looking after dependants.
Had it not been for the additional support that Mr Chalemba and his wife usually receive from some of their children whom they were able to raise and educate, the K140, 000 would not be adequate to meet their daily needs.
However, since their children also have families to look after, they do not render the much needed support to their parents, who are lucky not to be paying rentals as they managed to acquire land and eventually construct a sizeable house.
The Money used for constructing the house was from a large chunk of Mr Chalemba's pension funds which he got earlier on.
But the pension money ran out several years back.
Mr Chalemba, a retired civil servant built the farm house hurriedly after rentals became too high to afford and this was after the family got evicted from a Government pool house they had been occupying for 25 years.
The former MMD government then sold the same house to somebody else in 1999 and Mr Chilemba did not benefit from that sale.
The burden is even worse for the aged who are not entitled to monthly pensions as it is for Mrs Janet Phiri, 69.
Mrs Phiri of Lusaka West's Chigwilizano compound has been widowed for more than a decade now and out of 14 children, only four are surviving while the rest have died, with the recent bereavement being that of her last born son on Christmas Day last year.
"My late son died on Christmas day leaving behind four children who are now under my care. Altogether, I am currently looking after six grandchildren," she says.
The 69-year-old adds that she has faced difficulties in looking after her grandchildren as her deceased son used to assist her fiancially. Her daughter-in-law went back to her parents after being "cleansed" and has been given a green light to remarry as she's still youthful.
Mrs Phiri owns a 10-acre farm in Lusaka West's Kalundu area where she does her farming on a small -scale, but that this year she did not do any farming activities as she spent most of her time nursing her son.
It is in the same area that she crushes stones which she sells to passers-by on the road side, the business which is her major source of income.
"I sale my crushed stones to truckers at K300, 000. I know they take advantage of my old age to pay me that amount of money because they think am too old to tell that the money they give me is insufficient," Mrs Phiri says.
It is from the same money that she supports her four grand-children who are in grades 10, nine, six and three respectively. The other two are too young to go to school.
The Senior Citizens Association of Zambia (SCAZ), with the help from HelpAge International, has somewhat been a voice for the voiceless for the older persons in the country over the years. Chigwilizano compound and Julius Village in Lusaka West are some of its operational areas.
This author came across Mrs Phiri and retired Brigadier General Gideone Nketani, among several other retirees, during the SCAZ and HelpAge International field visit on January 25, this year. The field visit was part of the three-day training workshop on Ageing and social protection held at Golfview Hotel in Lusaka from January 24 to 26, this year.
SCAZ has sensitised the senior citizens in the afore-mentioned operational areas on rights and entitlements. It has also assisted the needy older persons identified with the help of the community in the area in various ways.
Gen Nketani, 72, reitired 10 years ago through what he termed as "normal retirement" after rendering 32 years of service. He lost his wife 10 months after his retirement. He had three children but is survived by two after the demise of the other child.
The 72-year-old complained that upon retiring, he managed to buy a small holding in Lusaka West, but that developing the area has proved to be a major challenge as he spent a huge chunk of his pension dues to purchase the land.
Gen Nketani adds that it is unfortunate that retirees in the country are viewed as "destitutes" besides them being shunned, forgetting that some of them used to enjoy certain privileges such as those of having a chauffeur, secretary, among other luxuries.
"No one would want to associate with you when you retire," he laments.
He complains further that accessing financial services such as loans is hampered by "red tape" the conditions attached to accessing financial assistance which makes it difficult for older persons to meet.
Mr Necodimus Chipfupa, said ageing is happening much faster in the developing world than in the developed world as currently eight per cent of the population in developing countries are over 60, adding that by 2050, older people will account for 20 per cent of the population in developing countries.
"The role and place of older people in developing societies is changing also. HIV/AIDS epidemic, migration patterns play a part, life expectancy can be misleading. Low life expectancy rates in developing countries have often taken toll on the population mean that there is a very small population of older people," he says.
Mr Chipfupa is of the view that there is need to generate entitlements to enforce service delivery beyond sector national policies, improve awareness and confidence of older people to access services.
There is also need to improve knowledge and skills of local and national decision makers regarding older people's needs, encourage others to include older people's needs in their work.
And International Labour Organisation (ILO) social security specialist, Luis Frota, observed that Zambia is growing and the benefits of growth will accrue in the form of wages and formal social security to only a few if nothing is done and that a floor for elderly people makes social and economic sense.
Mr Frota said non contributory protection is efficient in addressing poverty particularly for countries where old age is a strong predictor of vulnerability, adding that there is an opportunity for an affordable and meaningful impact of Social Security in the form of a non contributory pension.
"The more a country has elderly people living alone, the more a social pension is needed and its critical," he said.
Namibian Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare social welfare deputy director, Albert Biwa, said his country's social protection policies were guided by international conventions such as Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 22.
"Every one as a member of society has the right to social security and is entitled to realisation, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organisation and resources of each State, of the economic social and cultural rights indispensible for his dignity and the free development of his personality," reads Article 22.
On that country's legal framework, Mr Biwa explained that the Namibian Constitution is clear on senior citizen's entitlements and rights, citing among others Article 95 (f) of Constitution.
It states that, "The State shall ensure that senior citizens are entitled to and shall receive a regular pension, adequate for the maintenance of a decent standard of living and the enjoyment of social and cultural opportunities".
Ministry of Labour, Youth and Sport Department of Social Protection adviser, Nkandu Chilombo defined social protection according to the Sixth National Development Plan (SNDP), "Policies and programmes that seek to promote the livelihoods and welfare of the poorest and those most vulnerable to risks and shocks."
While University of Zambia lecturer in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Isaac Kabelenga, said there was need to embed old age in the school curriculum as that would enable learners prepare for the challenges that come with old age, adding that they would in turn convey the knowledge they acquired to their parents or guardians.
Adopting a universal social pension scheme to enable even those old persons that do not contribute to any pension scheme benefit coupled with continued lobbying of Government to speed up the implementation of the pro-senior citizens' policies were some of the workshop recommendations.
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