MOTION: CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS OF THE ELDERLY

parly of zimbabweHON. SEN. B. SIBANDA:  Madam President, I move the motion standing in my name that this House;

COGNISANT of the constitutional rights of the elderly as prescribed in Section 82 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe;

AWARE of the provisions of the Older Persons Act [Chapter 17: 1]; and

DETERMINED to see older persons receive and enjoy better care and attention than they are currently getting in all spheres of life;

NOW, THEREFORE, this House calls upon Government to:

  1. a)    review and update legislation relating to the welfare and upkeep of the elderly;
  2. b)   embark on training and re- orientation of society on our traditional and ubuntu values in relation to the rights and privileges of the elderly; and
  3. c)    compensate those elderly who had their retirement annuities and pensions ravaged by rabid inflation.

HON. SEN. B. SIBANDA: I want to remind this House that every society has its young and elders, those generations do exist.  In Zimbabwe, it is estimated that the population of the elderly is around five percent.  This is a significant number of persons which deserve the attention of all stakeholders.  The onus to look after the elderly generally rests on the shoulders of the middle aged, the State and other non-State actors like insurance organisations and pension funds.  However, as African societies develop and disintegrate, that is the way I perceive them – the middle aged generation turns to abandon that role and the burden shifts to the State and other institutional arrangements.  This is a distortion of our traditional values of ubuntu bethu.

In Zimbabwe, for a range of reasons, some elderly persons generally find themselves in invidious position of deprivation and dire-need.  This happens in spite of institutional provisions in the Constitution and other related arrangements.

Can I proceed Madam President and look at the constitutional provisions – Part 3 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe deals with specific rights.  These rights include:-

  1. a)      the rights of women;
  2. b)     the rights of the elderly;
  3. c)      the rights of the children;
  4. d)      the rights of the disabled persons; and
  5. e)      the rights of the veterans of the liberation struggle.

Of the five specific rights I have mentioned, I believe that the elderly are the least talked about in daily life.  Constitutionally, I believe these rights are given the same weight and as a nation, we cannot therefore give greater weight to one or another at the expense of another.

Further, Section 82 of the Constitution entitles the elderly to the following:-

  1. to receive reasonable care and assistance from their families and the State;
  2. to receive health care and assistance from the State; and
  3. to receive financial support by way of social security and welfare.

Madam President, legislation however turns to fetter these rights through the below stated proviso;

“..the State must take reasonable legislative and other measures within the limits of the resources to it to achieve the progressive realisation of this right”.

In other words, what legislation does, it says the State should not feel very compelled if they do not have the resources.  I believe that the State cannot exempt itself from its responsibilities.

There is also the Older Persons Act which deals with the entitlement of the older people and Madam President, I want the House to understand that I do not yet qualify to be one of the older persons and I am being honest.   I am below the age, but I am getting there.  So, there is no enlightened self interest in this presentation.

The Older Persons Act predates the current Constitution  and that makes it an urgent candidate for re-visitation  and realignment because it comes in earlier than the Constitution.  Be that as it may, this piece of legislation specifies the rights of older persons and deals with their care and welfare entitlement.  In short, these provisions are close to those prescribed in the Constitution.  The Act as it stands, complements the Constitutional provisions to some extent.  It is therefore sufficient for the purpose of reasonably addressing some of the needs of the elderly.

Madam President, having presented the legal provisions with the rights of the elderly, I now move and look at what is the way forward for our elderly.  In terms of the Older Persons Act, this group of people covers those who are above the age of 65.  This segment translates to about, as I stated before, 5% of the population.  The Older Persons Act and the psycho orientation of the population of Zimbabwe requires to be refocused and re-orientated when it comes to the care and welfare of the elderly.  The Older Persons Act needs to be urgently relooked at and to incorporate the following:-

  • Provisions that entitle older persons not to queue for services but to receive priority services.  As of now, this is a privilege but not a right for the elderly persons.  I personally strongly believe that our sekurusand so on should not be queuing in any situation.  There should be a reserved facility for old people to get priority services.
  • I also believe that in public transport, there must be seats reserved for the elders.  Unfortunately, our public transport is in such chaos that however desirable that is, it is not envisageable.
  • Government should be compelled to respect the provisions of the Act without the proviso of having the resources in deserving cases.  Madam President, the elderly must, I repeat, must receive their monthly stipends unless they have other sources of liquid income.

I have seen rural people who have nothing.  Even if they get welfare distributed maize, they cannot take it to the grinding mill.  I think it is a situation that cannot be acceptable in an independent Zimbabwe.

Government has been to some extent, very responsible in the impoverishment of our elderly.  We allowed inflation to erode whatever people had saved.  We allowed pension funds to be decimated and retirement annuities to be lost.  This is an unforgiveable sin in my opinion.  In other countries, Government would have been held to account, but Zimbabwe is Zimbabwe.  The elite can get away with sin.

However, I am consoled.  In today’s paper in the Herald, I saw statement to the effect that the issue of eroded pensions and privileges relating to annuities have been investigated in terms of the Presidential requirements I think of 2015 and it is stated that they will be compensated, by the insurance houses.  My belief is the burden of loss must be shared between the State and the insurance houses.  I know the insurance houses took us for a ride, but the State created the negative environment.  They cannot excuse themselves.

Madam President, I think there are other considerations we must look at in terms of the rights and privileges of our people.  I have previously raised the issue of food distribution.  By positive or negative coincident, last month when I got home I noticed that six very elderly people in their 90s had not received any social welfare assistance while young people had been allocated maize under the social welfare programme.  My reaction was to take six bags from my stock and give it to them because I could not countenance a situation where someone as old as my father, if he were still alive, has not received Government allocation while the young receive.

The positive result is, it immediately caused the local traditional leadership to get together and I understand they have addressed the situation.  In short, it says that if we all keep our eyes open, we would see the disadvantages suffered by our elder people and those can be rectifiable as per that experience.

Elderly parents should be able to demand and be accorded the requisite care and welfare support as part of our continued preservation of ubuntu.  You will remember that when our age was growing up, everybody who was the age of your father was your father; everyone who was the age of your grandmother was your grandmother.  We would not starve when our neighbour had plenty.  So, that is the ubuntu we want to rediscover.

Sadly, I think family members must discard this mentality of being so civilised that they forget about where they came from.  They are the sweat of their parents if you hear what I mean and you cannot forget that you are a product of sweat and effort.  Traditional leadership and other non-State actors must champion the cause for the care and welfare of our elderly.  Madam President, some of our elderly persons lead pathetic lives and I do not believe that this country, considering that the elderly total is 5% and of the 5%, some have means to survive by themselves, but those that do not have, do not have.

I remember, I visited a family and I saw the level of destitution in that family comprising of elderly people and I did a trick on one of the children.  I went to him and said, you know, suppose those people die, how are you going to get there with the position we know you hold in town?  Madam President, I will tell you it worked.  Next time I got a call from that gentleman saying, I am there, I am building a hut for them and I have brought them bags of maize.  I think if the leadership at all levels kept open eyes for those we call our elderly, the state of our elderly would not be as desperate as it is.

In conclusion Madam President, I state and restate, as a self respecting nation, we cannot allow some of our elderly persons to lead the current pitiful lives they currently do.  This House must take the challenge and take the bull by the horn and deal a devastating blow to the existing deficiency that manifests itself in the land.  I insist and I request that let us look after our elders.  It is our responsibility, it is the responsibility of the three or four other actors that I have identified.  Madam President, with those words I thank you.

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