Biting economic hardship, lack of support and low pensions are the issues that many old people in Zambia say are making it hard to survive. In addition, many complain of neglect by their families and authorities. This is coupled with limited access to basic necessities such as medical care.
For many of Zambia’s elderly, life after retirement seems less like a reward for lifetime work than a battle to survive.
All elderly Zambians receive a monthly state pension of approximately 12 dollars per month. But many elderly complain that that rate is so low they can not even afford meet their daily needs.
A 55 year old retired Army Officer Albert Sapwe says he feels neglected by government despite owing most of his life to serving and developing the country.
"The government should also look at us and give us at least enough to be able to send our children to school and even enough to run the homes. As far as I know, in consultation with friends in other countries here in Zambia we may be the lowest pensioners.", he says.
The situation is even worse for 62 year old Sergeant David Nyambe, a retired police officer from Kabwe in Central Zambia. He spent 30 years on the job.He adds that,
"It’s not enough it’s too little. We want more. If the government can give us a small increment."
The Senior Citizens Association of Zambia, or SCAZ for short, is an umbrella organisation for elderly persons aged 55 and above. Its main aim is to offer support and advice on issues such as the rights of the elderly. SCAZ also aims to bridge the gap between the needs of the elderly and what government is mandated to offer.
Colonel James Mwale, a retired aircraft engineer and founding member of SCAZ says poverty and access to medical services are the major problems that the elderly face in a country whose population stands slightly above 12 million.
About 800 000 are said to be above 55 and officially considered to be elderly. Most of these are in the urban areas, where they are following up their terminal pensions. However, others have resorted to staying in the countryside earning a living through self sustaining projects like fishing or farming.
Colonel Mwale says SCAZ has started offering small loans to the elderly to empower them with some form of social protection and life sustaining skills.
He says so far 43 retirees, from both the private sector and public service, have used the loans to start projects in carpentry, bricklaying, farming, and fishing. Colonel Mwale adds that SCAZ has also initiated a mushroom farming project for six elderly pensioners that look after the association’s affairs.
The government also provides training. In 1993 the Zambian government established a programme called Future Search to cushion the suffering of retirees from private and civil service.
A coordinator at Future Search, Adam Mapani, says government decided to establish the programme following the rising number of retirees from both civil service and private sector who had nothing to do as well as those that needed the money after they retired.
Mapani says many retirees have turned up for training on farming, fishing and carpentry skills. Unlike the small loans offered by SCAZ, Future Search receives grants from government to finance their projects.
He explained that many have died before getting their pensions because of the long process involved before the funds are processed.
"Many retirees have died without even getting their money. But the government has not left these people (elderly and retirees above 55) without doing anything and hence the introduction of Future Search programme in 1993 to cushion the impact of those who are being retired or retrenched. So far, Future Search has been providing what we call survival skills. Skills that will enable these retirees to utilize the terminal pensions they get after retirement.", he says
Despite presenting several proposals on aging to Parliament, government is yet to consider and include them in the new Constitution which is under review. The Constitution Review Commission has handed over its draft report to the cabinet. It is now up to government to consider the recommendation of the draft report before it is adopted by an Act of Parliament. No time frame has been set but, Government has indicated that a revised Constitution will likely not be adopted before 2008.
Adam Mapani of Future Search is optimistic that the new Constitution will include a Bill of Rights which addresses the growing concerns of the elderly.The draft report proposes greater benefits for retirees, including higher pensions, free medical services and special preference in public places like train stations and post offices.