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Senior citizens

Pensioners fall on hard times

by Jeffrey Moyo


82-year old Chipo Gwatiringa sits with her back to the wall of the Post Office Savings Bank in Harare, the Zimbabwean capital. She is waiting for her turn to withdraw her pension pay-out. A liquidity crunch is gripping this Southern African nation, however, and Gwatiringa says that this is her third day of queuing to get her money.

“I have no food at home; I lost my three children to AIDS and there is no one to support me,” Gwatiringa says. “I have been relying on my pension over the years. I worked for the government for 43 years as a teacher, and now I don’t get what I am owed,” she adds.

Back home, she faces the burden of looking after her eight orphaned grandchildren. “They have stopped going to school, since there is no money for buying school items. They need my support; I’m the hand that feeds them. If cash is now hard to come by in the banks where our money ought to be safe, then my grandchildren and I are doomed to starve.”

Gwatiringa’s case is typical of Zimbabwe’s aged pensioners. Their fate is worsening as the cash crisis is become more desperate. In April last year, the banks limited the amount people could withdraw to $ 500 at one time. Zimbabwe uses the US currency after its own currency was debased by hyperinflation a few years back. By the end of 2016, the maximum amount people could cash in was $ 150. Pensioners, however, are allowed to withdraw only $ 20 to $ 50 a day. Senior citizens like Gwatiringa are struggling to make ends meet.

According to Josephat Kahwema, the president of the Employers’ Confederation of Zimbabwe, pensioners play a fundamental role in a country’s economy. “Pensions are major anchors of social and economic stability. They are also major sources of investment funding providing the baseline social safety net, which means pensions drive national economic activity,” Kahwema points out.

78-year old Zviratidzo is also a retired teacher: “Although my monthly pension pay-out stands at $ 200 USD, I currently have to withdraw 20 dollars a day if I am lucky to find a bank with cash, but I have to spend sizeable chunks of these amounts on transport, travelling to urban centres to collect my pension.” She is from Zimbabwe’s Mashonaland East Province. Like others, she has begun to sell minor items along the highway, trying to make some additional money.

Jeffrey Moyo is a journalist and lives in Harare, Zimbabwe.


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