MARGARET Masiya (75) is a pensioner and widow from Zengeza looking after four grandchildren whose parents died of Aids-related illnesses. Three of them are in school.
BY PHILLIP CHIDAVAENZI
Kanyemba, whose husband was a police officer, receives $30 monthly pension from the National Social Security Agency (NSSA) and $100 from the government.
Somehow, the money is expected to cover her grandchildren’s school fees, medical bills and food requirements.
“There are many of us who are looking after Aids orphans and I really feel that this is a national responsibility for which we should at least be appreciated by government,” she says.
Kanyemba says she no longer has the physical strength to meet the demands of looking after herself and her grandchildren.
She has now resorted to vending vegetables at a small market in her neighbourhood to raise additional funds.
“I have had to re-adjust my lifestyle to suit my current earnings, which are not much,” she said. “But being a pensioner now means hardships. So I have to make do with what I have.”
Many of Zimbabwe’s elderly are living in poverty as the country has no effective social support system. Those who spent their productive years contributing to the country’s development have not been spared as they lost all their savings when the country’s financial regime migrated from the worthless Zimbabwe dollar to the US dollar.
In the past, such people could live out the remainder of their lives in relative comfort on their pension, but the economic turmoil of the last decade has eroded whatever contributions they made to their pension schemes.
NSSA started paying pensioners in foreign currency in April 2009. Following actuarial evaluations, the agency currently pays a minimum pension of $25 (for pensioners’ already on government payroll before 1 April 2009), according to general manager James Matiza.
Matiza is on record saying people need to understand that NSSA does not offer social assistance, but its schemes “are employment-based”.
He says pension payouts are simply based on what the person would have contributed while they were still employed but they are working towards increasing it.
“If you pay $6, it has a bearing on what you will be paid when you retire. Our rate of contribution is very low, but it is under review at the moment,” he said. “We have put a paper to the authorities to revise this because we want to pay better pensions.”
Kanyemba’s story mirrors that of Moses Mucheche (77) of St Mary’s Township.
He regards himself as a victim of time and circumstances because at a time when he should be enjoying the comfort and ease of his post-working years, his life is now a sorry tale of abject hardship and penury.
The measly monthly $50 pension payout he gets from NSSA seems to mock him.
“It’s like mockery of my working life,” he says. “It’s too little to sustain my life, but that is all I have. It’s a life of struggle.”
His story is a reflection of the struggle that many Zimbabwean pensioners, especially those at the low payout end of the scale that runs from a paltry $40 to as much as $1 447 often find themselves in.
“Now, I sell cigarettes, sweets and whatever would be in season to earn a living,” he says.
According to Edwin Kaseke of the School of Social Work at the University of Zimbabwe, “in most African countries occupational pensions are the major source of social protection at old age.”
He also notes in a paper titled The Challenges of Extending Social Security to the Poor: An African Perspective that the HIV and Aids pandemic has become a significant factor in social security.
“It is also noted that the Aids pandemic has added a new dimension to the problem of sustainability of social security schemes. Those most affected by HIV and Aids are in the most economically active age groups,” he says.