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Mrs Dube, a 65-year-old woman from Gokwe, sat at one of the outpatient benches at Harare Central Hospital with face in her hands clearly showing that she was in deep thought. She had failed to buy two pints of blood for her pending operation.
As every minute passed her hopes for the operation were fast disappearing. Her hopes of healing are fast hitting a brick wall because she cannot afford cost of blood. She is neither employed nor receiving any form of direct assistance from pension schemes or Government. Mrs Dube has no other source of income, hence is unable to buy two pints of blood for her operation. Coming from a poor background, she cannot afford to meet the hospital bill nor does she have relatives or children to assist her.
Mrs Dube's situation is synonymous to what most old persons are going through in Zimbabwe. The majority of the challenges they are facing evolve around policy issues, a situation that needs to be urgently dealt with if the country is to do justice to its older generation. Lack of policy, schemes or laws designed to protect older persons imply that there will be prolonged suffering of older people in Zimbabwe until policies, schemes and laws to protect them are instituted. The situation is likely to be addressed when the older people's Bill gets the nod of Parliament.
In March, the Cabinet Committee on Legislation indicated that the Bill would be going to Cabinet for discussion. The Bill has already attracted lots of attention from older persons and hope the Bill sails through. Mr Ralph Musutu (64) said he has heard of the Bill of Older Persons years before he retired from teaching. When the Bill was formulated in 2002, it brought about hope for the improvement of older people's living standards. He says: "We have been waiting for the Bill to be signed into law for years. All we are waiting for is a law that gives us the right to resources and not necessarily for food handouts but believe if the Government helps us, we will be able to help ourselves." The Bill of Older Persons sets out the rights and freedoms, which all people in Zimbabwe are entitled to.
It builds on the idea that everyone is born with human rights and entitled to certain freedoms, which are clearly laid in the Constitution. While it is acceptable that all vulnerable groups share common problems of marginalisation each group has specific problems, needing specific constitutional protection. People like Musutu have, among other human rights, a right to health and equal access to it like any other citizen Zimbabwe became the first country to work towards developing a policy for older persons by formulating a Bill known as the Bill for Older Persons in 2002. Eight years down the line the Bill has not been signed into law.
Of interest, however, is the number of Bills that were enacted into law since 2002, all meant to uphold the rights of the downtrodden such as the Domestic Violence Bill formulated in 2004. Issues that affect older persons have been raised at various fora and as such a number of policies and agreements have been devised by the African Union, United Nations and at Sadc in an effort to improve the living standards of older persons throughout the world.
Sekuru Wilson Makiwa says it was unfortunate that the respect was not cascading to allocation of resources from central Government. "I acknowledge the respect that we are getting in bank queues and other service provision but we need resourcing, as this is our major challenge.
"With most pension schemes giving us nothing at the end of the month, there is no way the older persons can survive without Government help," he said. Mr Makiwa said the HIV pandemic coupled with the general lack of support from children was making their lives difficult.