The Sunday Mail
Natasha Kokai and Emmanuel Kafe
Don’t be fooled by her infectious smile and how smartly she looks. Beneath her tough exterior is a layered story of depression, despair, abuse and exploitation.
On a blistering summer morning in one of the affluent suburbs of Harare, Braeside, we met Edina (not real name) an elderly woman who resides at the Salvation Army Braeside Social Complex — a haven for those living in their golden days.
She is dressed in black, ironically — a symbol of grief.
On a gloomy day, as gloomy as this day we sat down with her, there is a hit of pain in her catchy smile.
To get the full story, it is important to start from the beginning.
Edina is a 64-year-old woman who was abandoned by her children when she was still in her fifties. Her husband died some years back.
With the little pittance she got from work, Edina could not take care of herself. She thought of looking for a haven at a church in Braeside with the hope that life would be better.
She pays $110 dollars for rentals at this place, she works at a corner shop in town. All this at the age of 64!
But Edina feels browbeaten and abused.
She is not alone, Edina is one of the more than 50 elderly people who live at Braeside Social Complex which is run by a “church”.
The social complex is comprised of two sections, one for women and the other for men. The section for women is called the Woodland Flats.
Braeside Social Complex accommodates elderly people who are above 60 years who pay rentals.
The tenants here are widows and widowers who have either lost their children or were neglected by people who could have been taking care of them.
Quite a number of them feel that although they have somewhere to stay, they are being abused, exploited and robbed of the little they have by one of the church leaders who oversees this place.
“He is intimidating and always aloof. I have since stopped attending services on Sundays because of him,” Edina complained.
A frail 81-year-old Bernard (also not real name) chips in the conversation: “We thought since they are called by God they would take care of people like us but he doesn’t fear God.
“I feel for my colleagues here who are being told to pay $110 dollars for rentals, we even hear they want to increase it to $200 dollars for people like us who don’t even go to work.”
About 20 other inmates who are over 70 are more fortunate than the rest because their rentals are paid by the British Pension Fund, though the pension fund has warned that it will withdraw help if the rentals keep on going up.
The man at the centre of all the discomfort at the haven is Major Eleckson Rutanhire, who is responsible for the ageing group and the leader of the Salvation Army at this Braeside centre.
He is being accused of continuously increasing rental charges for people who cannot even take care of themselves, something that is not expected from a man of the cloth.
In a country that is embracing soft money and facing a crippling shortage of cash, it is alleged that Major Rutanhire still demands the rentals to be paid in United States dollars.
The commuter omnibus that is supposed to ferry people from the complex to town or hospital is now his personal property which he uses for personal business, according to the elderly.
Though the man of cloth refused to comment, the church’s public relations department regretted the allegations being levelled against their church elder.
Salvation Army spokesperson, Captain Victor Mafukidze, could not believe that such things were taking place at the social complex.
“I am touched by the behaviour that has became of Major Rutanhire, he is tarnishing the image of the church. We are known for running a lot of social institutions like Bumhudzo, Ralsten, among others and this will paint a bad picture on our organisation,” he said.
He said they will sit down as a board and discuss the matter.
Gogo Edina urged the church to find someone to head the haven, “which will make us grateful”.
But could this be just a microcosm of the situation that the elderly people are going through in some of the institutions.
For many, the golden years bring wisdom and serenity, freedom from the responsibility of caring for a family and the chance to indulge in some well-earned rest, relaxation and the “me” time.
Others have to share challenges such as failing health, memory loss, financial hardships and even abuse.
Thousands of elderly people are being abused and neglected in their homes by the very people meant to care for them.
In some cases, the treatment is so appalling that frail and vulnerable pensioners have been left “wanting to die”.
Traditionally, extended families have taken care of the elderly members but that’s now changing, meaning aging Zimbabweans are facing new challenges.
Last year in September the Older Persons Act, which was passed in 2012, was brought into force through Statutory Instrument 100/ 2017.