MANY Namibians will have become used to, if that is possible, the sad sight of pensioners begging outside the shops for a few dollars to buy a piece of bread.
In our main towns and capital city it has become commonplace to see old and fragile people and small children pleading with well-to-do shoppers for something to eat.
The plight of the elderly and the children — who depend on their grandparents for sustenance — is truly heartbreaking and unbearable. Something has to be done urgently to address the scourge of extreme poverty among the aged and infirm.
The pensioners I speak to tell me that it is extremely difficult to survive on N$600 per month and I have no reason to doubt them. Given the high rate of youth unemployment, in many instances the State pension is the main and often only source of income for an entire household.
The most recent figures from the Namibia Statistics Agency indicate that by 2011 at least 15% of the population were dependent on the State pension as their main source of income, up from 11% in 2001. In regions, such as Omusati, the pension was the main source of sustenance for around 31% of the population.
Taking into account the sad fact that around 48% have no access to electricity, the majority of people (54%) still rely on wood and charcoal for cooking and that around 50% have no access to toilet facilities, we can safely conclude that the elderly and infirm are not enjoying the sweet fruit of our independence. Many are living in conditions reminiscent of the Dark Ages.
In 2014, I reported on a case of an old lady at the DRC in Swakopmund who died of starvation after she went missing for several days, having gone to search for food near Goanikontes. I found her destitute daughter and three small children sitting in the dust around a small black pot on a toxic fire made of plastic bags.
Having had the privilege to travel far and wide, I concluded that these destitute people must be among the poorest in the world. We are a rich country with very poor people. Why?
The fact of inequality in our country is underlined by a study on income inequality presented at Cambridge University last year, which shows that Namibia is the second most unequal country in the world in terms of income and wealth distribution. The richest 5% control 70% of the wealth, while the bottom 50% have access to less than 3% of the national wealth.
It is a fact, well-established by contemporary research in South Africa and the UK, that the most effective means of lifting children out of poverty is to improve the income and resources available to their grandparents. This is especially true in our country where it has become a custom for young parents to leave (dump) their offspring on the grandparents in conditions that can best be described as deplorable.
Recently we heard that parliamentarians find it hard to maintain their standard of living with N$51 000 per month. What are our ‘leaders’ thinking? How must the pensioner survive on N$600? It is cruel to deprive the poorest of the poor of the means to live while directing the bulk of national resources to elite vanity projects, such as a new parliament building, governors’ mansions, fleets of Mercedes Benz vehicles, etc, while the elderly are literally starving to death.
This is unacceptable, especially in view of the fact that inflation has steadily eroded the buying power of the Namibia dollar to the extent that pensioners can buy less today with N$600 than they could in 1990 with the N$94 pension they received at the time.
The national budget has become an instrument of structural violence against the poor, an instrument of torture, which has been used to further impoverish the poorest of the poor and reduce their quality and length of life.
The budget must be used to address inequality and prevent needless human suffering — but as matters stand, the budget has become an instrument of the most subtle but deadly violence, whereby the most vulnerable are deprived of the country’s vast resources, while the elite are alone enjoying the benefits of independence.
It is for this reason that we in the Ada /Gui Senior Citizens and Destitute Children’s Association have resolved to build a national campaign to raise the state pension and disability payment by 100% in the 2015 budget.
We are demanding that the pension be raised to N$1200 in the upcoming budget. We have been fortunate to win the support and sympathy of some churches, trade unions and community organisations, such as the DRC Concerned Group, who have resolved to stand by the elderly to ensure that the pension is increased this year.
To this end we will mobilise for a Day of National Action on 21 March, when we will bring the elderly and the youth to parliament to demonstrate the severity of our suffering and our determination to redress the inequality that is destroying our communities and causing untold suffering to the most vulnerable.
Therefore we are calling on all sympathetic people to stand by us to demand what is fair and just, that our elders have a fair share of the great wealth of our beloved country.
Cde Hage, please hear our cry and raise the pension to N$1200 this year.
- First published in The Namibian on 2015–01–16
- Photo source: Namibian Sun