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Old age: from celebration of life to death’s siren

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By Richard Chirombo:

MAGANGA (centre) — Elderly people across the country are facing all sorts of abuse

Like in everyone else, blood throbs and quickens in the veins of elderly people.

Sadly, youths and ill-willed blood relations do not see it this way; so that, as one ages, torture seems to be the only thing on youthful blood relations’ minds.

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It is not far from the mark to even say the cries of elderly people have become the favourite diversion of modern-day relatives.

And, for Dick Chigwenembe, one of the elderly people in Neno District, life has become so unpredictable for elderly people in Malawi that they walk while watching over their backs.

In the end, fear of the unknown has become more frightening than death itself.

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Chigwenembe, who was born on October 4 1932, is talking from experience.

“I married in one of the villages here, in Neno, but was unceremoniously chased from the village because my wife’s relatives turned against me all of a sudden and started accusing me of practising witchcraft.

“The painful part is that I had been married to that wife for 32 years. I was heart-broken when they booted me out of the village because, to say the truth, I was very fair to everyone in the village.

Just imagine, although I did not have [biological] children with my wife, I raised the children my wife had with another man without even raising a finger. When they ganged up against me, I said to myself, ‘Should I sue them in a court of law?’ I said no. There is God who sees everything,” Chigwenembe says.

Chigwenembe may as well leave everything in God’s hands for, to say the truth, he has nowhere to run. Even songs by local artists are saturated with messages that incite hatred against elderly people.

For instance, seemingly innocent on the surface, music advanced by the old generation was full of messages that, subtly, turned the new generation against the old.

Take, for instance, Maulice Maulidi’s song ‘Inu Agogo’.

The lyrics go:

Inu agogo/

Ndiuzeni bwino/

Mundiuze bwino/

Chomwe mwaphera anawa/

Mwana oyamba mwaphera m’chigayo/

Mwati oyitana malonda/

Kodi kukhala ndi choncho?/

Mwana wachiwiri mwaphera m’sitolo/

Mwati oyitana malonda/

Kodi kukhala ndi choncho?

It is songs like these that fan the flames of hatred against Chigwenembe and elderly people like him.

Association of Secular Humanists Executive Director, George Thindwa, blames the situation on ignorance, saying it is a criminal offence to accuse another citizen of practising witchcraft.

“But, somehow, we find that Malawians are superstitious people, who have been torturing, sometimes killing, elderly people based on the unfounded belief in witchcraft.

“Law enforcers have a mandate to protect elderly people from abuse, mainly stemming from witchcraft accusations,” he says.

More than ever, this is important now, as the population of elderly people has risen.

The 2018 Population and Housing Census indicates that the country has over 1 million elderly people, up from 600,000 in the 2008 census.

Surely, elderly people cannot be ignored anymore.

That is the impression one gets after talking to Gender and Social Welfare Ministry Principal Secretary, Erica Maganga, who says the government is in the process of drafting an Elderly People’s Act to protect the elderly people from all forms of abuse.

Maganga says days when senior citizens were abused at will would soon be over.

“Elderly people across the country are facing all sorts of abuse, ranging from witchcraft allegations to physical abuse. The new law will address these challenges so that elderly people can live as freely as everyone else,” Maganga said.

She adds: “I do not understand this; a parent raises a child. The child grows up. And, together with the child’s parent, they start accusing the oldest of them all of practicing witchcraft. Such allegations are just cooked up and aimed at disposing elderly people of their property. As I have said, the law will protect the elderly from such types of abuse.”

Maganga says the country already has the Elderly Policy in place to promote the welfare of the elderly people but indicates that the law will provide a basis upon which law enforcers such as the police would be acting.

In 2012, the United Nations set aside June 15 for the world to commemorate Elderly Abuse Awareness Day after noting that elderly people were facing many challenges in their lives across the world.

But, despite having such a day, some people find pleasure in exposing elderly people to psychological torture; at worst, the elderly are, even after resisting, simply pushed into yawning graves.

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