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farmer's weekly, south africa

Saving Zim’s pensioners


The elderly living in rural communities in Zimbabwe are struggling to support themselves. But now a non-profit organisation is delivering food parcels to the needy in the country’s small towns. Cheryl Robertson reports...

Many elderly people in rural Zimbabwe are struggling to support themselves. The lucky few receive a pension of US$20 (about R165) to $40 (R330) per month; some have no income at all.

One of the non-profit organisations helping them is the Zimbabwe Pensioner Support Fund (ZPSF), which delivers basic food parcels to 1 650 pensioners in the country’s smaller towns.

Hannes Botha (58), now based in Malelane, first received a call for help in 2002 from an elderly woman he knew in Zimbabwe. He drove a carload of supplies to her, and returned occasionally to assist. Another pensioner then asked for help at the Huisvergesig Old-Age home in Gweru.

“When I took the goodies to this pensioner, everyone around was watching me like a hawk. I then realised the extent of the problem and made that home my personal crusade,” he says. He officially formed the ZPSF in 2007 when he could no longer fund the process on his own.

LEFT IN THE RUINS

Since 2000, Zimbabwe’s land reform programme has displaced many elderly farm owners, and the resulting instability has caused sky-high inflation, which reached a record 231 million percent in 2008. All savings and pension policies were wiped out.

When the local currency was replaced by the US dollar in 2009, any investments pensioners had left effectively vanished as their contributions were converted.

Others believe inept management of pension funds resulted in pitiful payouts to people too desperate to refuse them. British pensioners living in Zimbabwe have frozen state pensions– they don’t receive annual increments in line with inflation. There is also no state support for the elderly there.

Pat Rogers, manager of the Sunningdale Trust home in Chinhoyi, says the home used to insist on new residents being retired, but some pensioners in their 70s and 80s still have to work.

ZPSF IN ACTION

“Most people are in this situation through no fault of their own,” Hannes says. He and a team of volunteers in South Africa, including his brother Attie Botha (64), a pastor from the Methodist church in Duivelskloof near Tzaneen, deliver 20t of supplies from the ZPSF warehouse in Malelane every six to eight weeks, depending on paperwork issues and Beitbridge border delays. Two trucks – one of which was donated by a farmer from Darlington, Western Cape – deliver the food parcels to 28 old-age homes, private homes and feeding kitchens throughout Zimbabwe.

The value of the food and the cost of delivering it to the pensioners is about US$30 000 (R250 000), which the ZPSF battles to raise with the help of its SA donors. “These donors are the only ones keeping some of these people going,” says Attie. “It is really tragic to arrive at our destinations two weeks late to find folk who have run out of food. On one delayed trip a pensioner ran up to me, hugged me and in tears said: ‘We ran out of food about three days ago, thank you for caring’.”

In each community, the ZPSF has a network of younger people who identify struggling elders, including one ex-farmer, who preferred not to be named. “What the ZPSF does is beyond words,” she says. “So many old people in our area rely on these parcels.” She has been trying to coax some of the elderly “just barely living” in their own homes to move into old-age homes and rent out their houses. “But their house is perhaps the only thing they’ve got. It’s survival mode kicking in. It’s a case of, ‘This is mine and nobody is taking it away from me’,” she says.

The ZPSF supplies only 40% of the pensioners in need. Each 20kg food box includes maize meal, flour, rice, sugar, oats, spaghetti, cooking oil, jam, coffee, salt, peanut butter, soup packets, instant yeast, six candles, four boxes of matches, one tin each of pilchards, baked beans, Vienna sausages, mixed vegetables and corned meat, a bar of soap and a bar of chocolate. The local community donates basics such as bread, milk and cooking oil to needy pensioners who also receive food parcels from the ZPSF. The foundation helps them with basic welfare issues and also sources donations to help maintain two old-age homes.

CHRISTMAS SPIRIT

“We’d like to be able to make this Christmas extra special for our pensioners,” says Linda Botha Schultz, fund-raiser for the ZPSF. Last year, one of its registered pensioners told her: “I have family all over the world but the only present I had to open on Christmas Day was the one from the ZPSF.”

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