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When being old is a crime

ELDERLY COUPLE— Bvumbwe and Ngulube

If you are aged 60 and above, welcome to the marginalised club of the elderly where pain from multiple ailments is the order of the day. Perhaps the most enduring pain is that of being treated with contempt due to all sorts of imaginary things such as witchcraft. Add that to challenges such as lack of income and social protection then you have a sad reality facing the elderly. SELLINA TAMBULA and PETER KANJERE expose the evils which the elderly are being subjected to in Malawi.

You would think abuse of the elderly is only common in remotest areas. Not entirely correct.

Chiwaya Village, Traditional Authority Kapeni, Blantyre is just three kilometres from the tarmac road which leads to Chigumula Market.

There, you find widow Modester Lyton, 69, who takes care of six grandchildren.

She greets me from her dilapidated house and it is evident she lives in poverty.

Four of her eight children died and the rest are nowhere to be seen.

They seldom come to visit her and she is left to fend for herself. Her 19-year-old grandchild, Charity, who is married, supports her from her meagre fritters selling business.

Charity earns K2,800 daily from the business and with that, provides her grandmother with soap and other necessities.

Lyton says she lacks food and other basic needs because there is no one else to help her.

“My eyesight is now failing. I can no longer see properly. I went for treatment three times and I have now given up. I can no longer draw water or even farm to support myself and my grandchildren,” Lyton says.

This is the sad reality which the elderly face in Malawi.

HOMELESS—Ching’amba stands where her house

Just a stone’s throw from Lyton’s house lives Margaret Kachigamba. All she remembers about her age is that, in 1949, she had just reached puberty.

She is going through an ordeal similar to that of Lyton but her case is graver.

Seven of her eight children died.

The house she has been living in for the past years collapsed two weeks ago due to heavy winds and rain.

“I was with my grandson. We were sleeping around 1 am when suddenly, I heard a cracking sound. My grandson quickly took my hand and led me out of the house as I am almost blind. As soon as we came out, the entire house collapsed,” Kachigamba says.

Today, she lives in her remaining son’s house. Her son is unemployed and she relies on well-wishers to provide her with food and other basic necessities.

Kachigamba has faced accusations that she is a witch.

“It was some years back. Several of my relations had died and suddenly, other relatives started saying I was the one killing them through magic. Even though I was not physically assaulted, it was traumatising to be accused of being a witch,” Kachigamba says.

All too often, people who are older go through such torture with no one to defend or stand up for them.

In the same village lives another elderly couple— Lyson Julius Bvumbwe, who was born in 1938 and his 71-year-old wife Grena Ngulube.

Grena can barely walk and her husband barely sees. Three of their four children are dead and grandparents live with a grandson aged 10. The grandson fetches water and cooks for them.

All these elderly people survive on support from an association for elderly people called Chiwaya Day Care Centre.

The centre’s coordinator, Mary Ndalama says the group has 10 volunteers who provide home-based care, food and cultivate vegetables for the elderly.

Ndalama says there are 80 elderly people in the village who need assistance in the form of shelter and other materials.

“The situation is very dire. I wish there were more things we could do but, much as we are trying, we have limited resources,” she says.

It is evident that much as community organisations assist older people, their efforts are not enough to end the suffering.

Malawi Network of Elderly Persons (Manepo) has been lobbying for a universal pension for the elderly.

Manepo Executive Director, Andrew kavala, says empowering the elderly with a pension is one of the major ways of alleviating their suffering.

“Neighbouring countries such as Zambia have rolled out a pension for the elderly.

Zambia was one of the countries that was registering high cases of brutal killings of the elderly but after rolling out the pension, they reduced such incidents by 75 percent,” Kavala says.

Lyton, Kachigamba and Bvumbwe echo the sentiments, saying a pension would enable them to provide for themselves and the orphans they take care of.

National Policy for Older Persons enacted in October 2016 captures issues related to the elderly well.

The policy recommends “the rolling out of the elderly existing social protection programme such as the social cash transfer and community savings investment programmes, undertake measures to abolish all forms of discrimination, violence and exploitation of older persons, ensure recognition, promotion and protection of the rights of older persons, coordinate and sustain a comprehensive response to abuse and violence against older persons and ensure that older persons have increased access to health and rehabilitation services”.

However, as is the case with all good policies in Malawi, implementation remains a challenge. Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare spokesperson, Lucy Bandazi, Thursday said they recognised that, the country’s economy being agro-based, it was difficult for the elderly to contribute to socio-economic activities.

“In this regard, [the] government is providing different interventions to ensure that older persons enjoy their rights. For instance, [the] government is implementing the 2016 National Policy on Older Persons.

“The policy seeks to ensure that older persons have access to affordable and appropriate health care, make full use of their skills and abilities, and end discrimination against older persons.

“The country has social protection mechanisms among which is the Social Cash Transfer Programme (SCTP). One of the targeting criteria for SCTP is labour constraint in which most of the elderly households qualify. This means that currently, of the 1,178,326 beneficiary members, 171, 375 are older persons aged above 64years,” Bandazi said..

TEMPORARY HOUSE—Bvumbwe heads for home

It seems those who are young and energetic forget that they would become old one day.

National Policy For Older Persons of 2016 defines ageing as “an inevitable stage of life usually above 60 years, characterised by physical and mental changes in humans due to economic (unemployment, lack of income), health, social and geographical situations”.

Ageing comes with its own ailments such as back problems, loss of eyesight, insomnia, arthritis, heart, respiratory and Alzheimer’s diseases and diabetes just to mention a few.

There are an estimated 962 million elderly people in the world, representing 13 percent of the world’s population of 7.5 billion as of 2019. In Malawi, the population of the elderly is expected to hit two million in 2050, according to www.

Globally, the population of people aged 60 and above is growing faster than that of younger ones. The United Nations says such growth presents the world with multiple challenges such as housing, social protection and transportation.

In Malawi, National Statistical Offices’ Housing and Population and Housing Census of 2018 puts the population of those aged 60 and above at 891,803, representing five percent of the population.

In spite of this, this is an age group that is left to languish due to stereotypes that are associated with the elderly connected to beliefs in witchcraft.

In Malawi, the elderly face many challenges, which are mostly propelled by poverty and HIV and Aids, especially in rural areas where most people live.

Because older persons, who are poor, cannot fend for themselves, they are frequently accused of practising witchcraft.

This has led to the killing of older people in Malawi.

The most chilling case happened on January 25 2016 when four elderly people from Chimbalanga Village in Neno were killed because they were accused of killing a 17-year-old girl with lightning through magic.

This case brought to light the extent of the plight of elderly people in the country.

Just last year alone, 10 elderly people were brutally killed because they were accused of being witches.

This, in itself, speaks volumes as to the stigma and discrimination older persons are subjected to in Malawi.

One rarely hears of a case of a young person being killed because he or she is a witch.

So, why is it that it is mostly the elderly who suffer such hateful and violent death in such cases?

Research suggests that this is case because most of the elderly are stripped of their dignity as they can no longer fend for themselves.

During the last meeting of Parliament in December 2018, members of Parliament passed a motion which would see older person aged 65 and above—who are not on pension—receiving monthly upkeep from the government.

If nothing is done, older people will continue to face problems. A report on Food and Agriculture Organisation (Fao) website estimates that the number of the aged in Malawi is likely to shoot to two million by 2050.

“The situation of older persons is changing because of three interdependent factors: demographic change (increasing numbers of the elderly, feminization of population ageing), modernisation and development (urbanisation, industrialisation, weakening of traditional systems of care, growing inter-generational differences), and the impact of HIV and Aids (increased responsibilities of the elderly to care for orphans and other vulnerable family members, loss of support from children who have died).”

“In rural areas, ageing is further intensified by rural-urban migration, which comprises mainly young adults leaving to find work in cities. Population ageing in rural settings thus generates major social and economic challenges which—unless addressed properly, can threaten efforts to promote sustainable agriculture, natural resource management and rural development”, a post on the website reads.

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