Lack of insurance cover expose elderly immigrant pensioners to destitution

Angela Zulu in her one-roomed shack


Angela Zulu grimaces as she slowly rises from an awkward sitting position at the edge of her yard.

Halfway up – back hunched to a bow and pelvis tilted forward, she stops and in a crude stooping posture, with labored giant strides, races us to her four-square-metre plastic shack as we emerged from the other direction.

But even this hovel in Mahalape, an illegal slum settlement of over 200 impoverished families between Chikanga and Sakubva high density suburbs does not belong to this destitute 80 year old woman of Malawian descent.

“I was picked from the streets where I had been living for more than a year to look after this stand,” Angela told Madzimbahwe Explorer. “I’m not even related to the owner and I still live from handouts of well-wishers and churchmates.”

Angela was thrown out by her former employees after over six decades of servitude as a housemaid. Without any insurance, pension cover, children or relatives, she found herself on the streets.

“I would stay at Sakubva bus terminus and survive from buying and selling fruits until l was approached with an offer to come and stay here,” she said with tears welling up.

Brought into the country as an infant by Malawian migrant workers, Angela’s condition is compounded by her statelessness denying her the right to demand social security protection from government.

United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) Regional Bureau for Southern Africa Bureau deputy director Leonard Zulu says the right to nationality is often described as “the right to have rights” because often stateless people can neither enjoy or asset their rights to any government.

According to article 1(1) of the 1954 convention relating to the status of stateless persons is a situation where an individual ‘is not considered as a national by any State under the operation of its law.”

There are around 10 million people like her worldwide with Africa believed to have over 700 000.

These marginalised and disenfranchised individuals can hardly assert their rights as they have no backing from any state hence, they live marginalised lives on the fringes of society.

Like Angela, the number of such individuals is hard to ascertain as their statelessness makes their numbers difficult to accurately ascertain.

Leonard notes that since statelessness individuals are legally non-existent, they cannot be accounted for.

Most notably stateless people suffer incalculable social, economic or political consequences.

Although Angela had been working productively all her life the absence of pension by her employers and government social safety nets left Angela vulnerable to destitution.

Leonard said stateless individuals were often steeped in worrying poverty levels and as with Angela excluded from key services including social benefits.

“Stateless people face immense challenges on a daily basis. In the absence of a recognized nationality, the most common daily activity become an almost insurmountable obstacle: to work and hope for fair and equitable remuneration, to enjoy a certain freedom of movement without being harassed, to carry out simple banking transactions such as cashing a cheque, claiming legal assistance or social benefits,” Leonard said.

Deputy President of Zimbabwean Senate Lieutenant General (Rtd.) Mike Nyambuya in a previous engagement said the problem was due to delays in resolving problems that were caused by historical and contemporary migrants.

“In Africa, the two major causes of statelessness are a failure to integrate historical and contemporary migrants and their descendants, and discrimination in law or on the basis of gender, race or ethnicity,” Nyambuya said.

Labour and Economic Development Research Institute of Zimbabwe researcher and economist Prosper Chitambara, quoting Zimstat’ 2019 labour force and child labour survey, said only two percent have access to a monthly pension and social security.

“Most people do not have social protection insurance and only two percent have access to monthly pension and social security,” Chitambara said.

Dr Grace Muradzikwa

Insurance and  Pensions Commission (Ipec) commissioner of insurance, pensions and provident funds, Grace Muradzikwa defined a pension as  “a form of insurance against old age, poverty or loss of income after retirement” during her address to journalists during the virtual launch of the Ipec and National Social Security Authority (NSSA) 2020 Insurance and Pensions Journalists Mentorship programme.

Currently government is targeting one million households with cash grants of $300 to cushion them from the adverse effects of the Covid-19 national lockdown but only 130 households have received the money to date according to Chitambara.

Angela is not even considered eligible for these benefits despite Zimbabwean national in the slum settlement in less dire straits being admitted in the social security net.

Muradzikwa said only 34 percent of the population had any insurance of some sort 70 percent of which was funeral cover amidst a highly informalised economy.

Chitambara says according to 2015 World Bank figures Zimbabwe has highest level of informality in the world with both individuals and insurers shunning each other.

Preventing indigence especially among senior citizens is what NSSA acting general manager Arthur Manase says his organisation aspires to prevent.

“We are keen in offering safety and security to avoid poverty at all levels and making sure that everyone is covered,” Manase said.

But for Angela only a universal pension cover can save her situation beyond well-wishers who give her as and when they remember situation.

“At times l spend the whole day without eating anything. I just thank God that there are people who always remember me and assist when they can,” she said. “Otherwise I can hardly do anything for myself because of my age and by troublesome back.”


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