The elderly neglected during the COVID-19 induced lockdowns, have suddenly become darlings of political parties seeking votes as the country heads to the polls.
Exactly two years ago during the same period, Gerald Ncube (65) was among the elderly in Nkayi South desperately waiting in vain for COVID-19 relief grants. The central government had announced a $600 million facility targeting the vulnerable in society including informal traders whose means of earning a living were disrupted by COVID-19 lockdown measures. Under the facility, each beneficiary was entitled to monthly support of ZW$200 subject view – then enough to buy a 10kg bag of mealie-meal and 2litre bottle of cooking oil.
But Ncube is among many villagers who feel they were neglected after having failed to receive any support – financial or otherwise in their hour of need. Fast forward to 2022, all-terrain high clearance twin-cabs of all types from different political parties are trudging along the dusty roads of Nkayi South donating freebies. “I recently received a bag of maize from one of the campaign teams of a certain political party. Other parties have been giving us t-shirts and they are all promising us more,” says Ncube. Ncube says this is not new as election seasons always bring baskets of freebies from agricultural inputs to t-shirts.
By-elections to fill vacant 28 parliamentary and 105 local government seats are due on March 26. The country will also hold its general elections in 2023, and political parties have not wasted time in kick-starting their campaigns several months ahead of the polls. In Matabeleland North, there will be a by-election for the Binga North and Tsholotsho South vacant parliamentary seats. Local authority by-elections will be held in Bubi, Lupane, Nkayi and Victoria Falls.
Thomas Sibanda, a villager in Nkayi South, says the elderly are a target as politicians take advantage of their suffering. “We are each brother’s keeper, but you will see that as we go for 2023 elections as we are witnessing now, parties are targeting them (the elderly) for votes by donating goods among others,” Sibanda says.
Another villager, Michael Ncube adds: “In a functional economy the elderly are supposed to be looked after by the government. Because of lack of employment opportunities and a desire to support parents, youngsters end up leaving the country. The whole burden is left with the elderly who are no longer able to work,” says Ncube.”
During the COVID-19 induced lockdowns, political parties were nowhere to be seen. The elderly who were forsaken have suddenly become darlings. Social grants from the department of social welfare did not reach out to them or were very paltry when received. Surviving became a challenge.
Former Nkayi South opposition MP, Abednico Bhebhe says this exposes the bad side of the country’s politics. “In terms of the elderly, as soon as elections are called they activate that (support) through the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare. They start the registration process of the elderly,” Bhebhe says. “I have seen that and exposed it. Right now they are using drought relief and I know they will use social welfare again to start giving the elderly maize. They will use maize to buy votes.”
Nkayi Social Welfare Officer Khumbulani Mabena did not answer his mobile phone or respond to questions sent to him by this reporter before publication.
Current Zanu PF Nkayi South MP Stars Mathe admits that the elderly suffered when the country introduced COVID-19 lockdowns but says they are not neglected. “During lockdowns life was hard for them, but they have to be helped every time. It is not true that they are only assisted during elections,” Mathe says. “Personally, I have formed committees in every ward to update me about the needs of the elderly in my constituency. We don’t wait for elections.”
Source: The Citizen Bulletin