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Zimbabwe - 'Just Push In'
From Cathy Buckle
Dear Family and Friends,
There are some things in Zimbabwe that are so shameful that it's almost easier to turn away than to witness the reality of some people's lives.
Recently, I went to pay my telephone account on the same day as pension cheques were supposed to have arrived at the local Post Office Savings Bank. The two services operate side-by-side, in the same building, on the ground floor and on opposite sides of a common entrance door. The view in front of me was of mayhem. Literally hundreds of people were crowded around the entrance to the building and were clearly trying to get into the savings bank.
A security guard was leaning out of the window of the telephone accounts hall watching the growing crowd. I held up my telephone bill to indicate what I wanted and he shouted to me: 'Just push in!'
Reluctantly I stepped into the mass of people, apologising, excusing, requesting passage and all the time showing the crumpled phone bill so they knew I wasn't trying to get to the Savings Bank.
It took some time to squeeze, push and squash my way through the crowd and then I realised that there seemed to be a lot of people with crutches, walking sticks and even two people in wheelchairs. When I finally got into the telephone accounts hall, very crushed, battered and dishevelled I asked the security guard what was going on. He told me that government pension cheques had not been deposited into peoples accounts and that all these people were refusing to go away until they got their money. They weren't waiting for a fortune but for miniscule amounts that they can barely live on for one week, let alone a month.
The doors of the savings bank were locked, the employees sat inside chatting while hundreds of near destitute pensioners waited outside. Word got around that there was no pension money and they should come back after the weekend. Men and women in their seventies and eighties, some as old as Zimbabwe's President, roared and surged forward; glass doors looked in danger of collapsing, a disaster seemed very close.
With such shame I looked at the men and women who gave a lifetime to building our country and who were being rewarded like this. There was nowhere for them to sit, no cups of tea or glasses of water, no polite explanation, no apology, no respect for age, not even any empathy - just a locked door. Grey haired, hunched over and so very thin, our elders waited in vain.
Many carried home made walking sticks, knobbled, knotted and hand carved. Others wore glasses with one lens missing or frames stuck together with putty; faces were hollow and mouths shrunken, most with only a few teeth left, none with the luxury of dentures.  One man sat bent over in a wheelchair whose wheels had been patched up with strips of bicycle tyre, sewn on with big brown stitches. Almost all of them wore clothes that were long past their best: suits with frayed cuffs and hems, threadbare dresses with collars falling apart.
The state that pensioners find themselves in here, through no fault of their own, is absolutely tragic. Life savings have been wiped out with hyper inflation and repeated devaluation; assets have been sold for miniscule amounts in exchange for food and medicines and children, who could help, are either struggling somewhere in the diaspora or unemployed and barely surviving themselves. A woman told me her pension is 62 US dollars a month but her rent is 74 dollars. Another told me her NSSA pension (social security) is 38 US dollars a month but her medical aid is 48 US dollars a month, increased from 8 US dollars in December.
Perhaps hardest of all is the knowledge that if you have a fall, break a bone or get sick, you're done for. Its a very common sight to see elderly people being pushed in wheelbarrows or lying on the ground in the dirt outside hospitals waiting for assistance. At our local government hospital which is a provincial centre, there is now only one government doctor serving the whole establishment.
As Zanu PF leaders continue to bleat about targeted sanctions that only affect 203 individuals and 44 companies and say "no more concessions" until "sanctions' are lifted, the madness goes on. Farms continue to be grabbed, ever more people lose their homes, jobs and life's work and more people are made destitute because of the greed of a handful.
Zimbabwe's pensioners, like so many others in our population are in a diabolical state which has nothing whatever to do with sanctions and everything to do with a decade of mis-governance.
I end this week with a request for memories and anecdotes of Imire Game Park in Wedza between the years 1950 and 2000. So much history from the countryside has got lost in this dark decade and so many people who were eye witnesses and could remember have gone. Please contact me at the email address below if you have any stories you would be prepared to share of this very special place. Until next time, thanks for reading,
love, cathy
Copyright cathy buckle  January 30, 2010.
For information or orders of my new book: "INNOCENT VICTIMS" or previous books "African Tears" and "Beyond Tears," or to subscribe/unsubscribe to this newsletter, please write to:
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