How is life in Mozambique

Mozambique: Elderly people live in poverty

Experts are calling for higher pensions

By Jinty Jackson | October 02, 2012

Maputo. Carolina Poalo tirelessly works the dry earth with her hoe. The farmer from Mozambique really wants to start planting, because in the long dry period she and her two grandchildren could only eat cassava leaves. At an age when the average life expectancy is 50 years, the 65-year-old is considered very old.

But Poala is far from a golden retirement. Instead, violent attacks on the elderly continue to increase - rape, psychological abuse and neglect. There is no official information yet. You only know that the perpetrators often come from the same family.

Carolina Poalo's sister Amelia fled home when her sons accused her of witchcraft. "I was only able to survive because I have a piece of land." In Bilalwane, a suburb of the capital Maputo, she lives close to her sister, who is also completely on her own. "I don't get any support from my two daughters," she says. "Sometimes they come and leave their children here when they're pregnant again."

Whenever they can, the two older women earn something extra by working in the fields with others. They receive the equivalent of five US dollars a month in state pensions, as little as anywhere else in southern Africa. That's how much a kilo of salt costs in Mozambique. Carolina and Amelia do not have their own water connection, which means that they also have to spend part of their limited funds on it.

Mozambique's Social Services Agency is known to be corrupt and inefficient. Many elderly people do not get money even though they applied for it. 70-year-old Maria Chambale, who suffers from cataracts, is afraid of not being able to work at some point. "I have to keep fighting," she says. "What else can I do?"

Like other elderly people in Mozambique, she grows vegetables on a small piece of land, on which she lives. She also works as a day laborer in the fields of better-off neighbors.

Natural resources ensure rapid economic growth

Although Mozambique's economy is growing rapidly due to its natural gas and coal reserves and the World Bank expects a growth rate of 7.5 percent this year, the poor will not benefit from this. "68 percent of the elderly in the country live below the poverty line," reports Janet Duffield, who heads the aid organization Help Age International in Mozambique.

Those who cannot produce their own food are particularly at risk. The 60-year-old Armando Mattheus has to go begging on the streets of Maputo because otherwise he would not be able to survive. "I used to be able to buy something from the little that I own. Today it is no longer enough for anything," he says with resignation. Mattheus sits in front of a restaurant all day and hopes for donations from tourists.

Experts have already appealed to the government to take more care of the elderly as a matter of urgency. Around 80 percent of Mozambicans are still employed even at an advanced age. That is one of the highest rates in the world. "People work until they die because they have no other choice," says António Francisco, director of the Institute for Social and Economic Studies.

As half of the 23 million inhabitants are under the age of 18, Mozambique is considered a country with a young population. Few people have direct memories of the devastating civil war that ended two decades ago. Older people currently only make up five percent of all Mozambicans.

However, demographic change will also make itself felt there in the years to come. By the time a child born today turns 60, the number of their elders will have nearly tripled, according to a study by Francisco. He speaks of a "demographic change unprecedented in the history of Mozambique".

The neighboring countries of South Africa, Swaziland, Botswana, Namibia and Lesotho provide between 0.3 and 2 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) to support the elderly. As in Mozambique, the population of these countries is on average very young. However, experts are convinced that helping the elderly pays off.

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Japan, where the proportion of people over 65 was the highest worldwide in 2010 at 38 percent, provides more than ten percent of its GDP for pensions. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Great Britain spends five percent of GDP on this.

Pensions can lift entire families out of poverty

Studies have since shown that state pensions help reduce poverty and hunger because the elderly share support with the entire family. According to a 2003 study by Help Age International, pensions increased the incomes of the poorest five percent of the population in Brazil by 100 percent and in South Africa by 50 percent. Two years later, a study by the University of Manchester, UK, found that families where members were receiving pensions were 18 percent less at risk of poverty in Brazil and 12.5 percent less in South Africa.

At least one elderly person lives in one fifth of all Mozambican households. Aid organizations are therefore urging the government to catch up with other countries in the region. In Mozambique, 43 percent of all orphans are raised by their grandparents. The AIDS prevalence of 16.2 percent is one of the highest in the world.

"Of the ten African countries with the highest prevalence of AIDS, eight have introduced pensions or other government support for the elderly," said Duffield. Francisco estimates that the government would have to pay those over 60 years old at least $ 26 a month to have any effect. That would correspond to three percent of the GDP of $ 12.8 billion.

Felix Matusse, who heads the government's senior citizens' agency, believes that pensions are not affordable for everyone. "We are still dependent on outside help," he explains. International donors are responsible for more than 30 percent of the entire national budget. In view of its good economic development, however, the country can no longer play the poverty card. It is estimated that Mozambique could earn more than five billion dollars a year from sales of natural gas alone in the longer term.

Political observers, however, hardly expect the government to introduce major reforms to support the elderly before the next elections in 2014. After all, by the end of this year a draft law that protects the elderly from violence should be introduced into parliament. The pension issue is not mentioned in it. (afr / IPS)

| Tags: Mozambique, Society, Age, Jinty Jackson