Covid-19, a reminder of importance of social services

Covid-19, a reminder of importance of social services

By Joel Mandaza

“The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members,” Mahatma Gandhi.

In the statement, the luminary Indian statesman challenged states to ensure they have systems that looks out for the poorest and those who cannot self-sustain.

This also includes those with disabilities, the elderly and those who live in poverty.

If what Gandhi suggested is a measure of a decent society, then Zimbabwe is falling short.

There is a disintegration of social services which those who have spoken of, have been labelled as enemies of the state.

Social services by definition are government provisions meant to ensure there is equality and equity in communities. This is done through increased access to public goods like education and health care. They also include social welfare, which is state intervention, by way of resources, to help those who are not in a financial position to self-sustain.

It is not a coincidence that for more than a decade there has not been an effort to make sure that budgets are adjusted to take care of the poor, the sick, those with disabilities and the elderly.

In Zimbabwe, the National Social Security Authority (NSSA) exists to ensure the equitable dispensation of such social services.

However, it has for long been a candy box for sweet toothed politicians, some have stolen enough to last them three lifetimes in opulence.

Covid-19, a reminder of importance of social services

Resulting criminal cases have been used as whips in factional fights, their outcomes have not had any bearing on the lives of ordinary Zimbabweans.

All good natured approaches which were formulated when the country had a semblance of functionality now remain paper concepts, whose operationalization has been overtaken by events.

Zimbabwe used to have Basic Education Assistance Module (BEAM), but it died a natural death.

Right now Zimbabwe has a very low school attendance rate.

According to a 2020 ZIMVAC report; “In urban areas, 60 percent of children of secondary school age attend school, compared to 39 percent in rural areas.”

This means there is a significant number of learners who are out of school, chief among the causes is poverty and lack of funds.

Covid-19, a reminder of importance of social services

Beyond the numbers, this means there is a generation, whose chances of making it in life are being diminished because there are no social services.

The state cannot take it upon itself to ensure that they are empowered through education.

Covid-19 and the lockdown situation have worsened issues, as learning migrated online there was no effort by the government to try and ensure widespread access to lessons.

Even those who were on paper, enrolled to schools, were shut out of the learning process through resource constraints.

Perhaps if NSSA had not spent US$39 million on a hotel that has no market in Beitbridge, the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare which manages BEAM, would have afforded to ensure every child who is supposed to go to school gets data to learn.

But that remains wishful thinking on my part, and the consequences of government`s stubbornness can be seen in the just released Grade 7 results.

On the other hand, pensioners have been reduced to paupers.

The payouts are between ZWL$1 000 and $3000, in United States dollars terms that is between US$10 and US$30.

Supposing one receives the minimum payout, they would need four months without eating their money (holding inflation constant) to be able to raise money needed by a single individual to survive in Zimbabwe.

According to the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (ZIMSTAT); “The Total Consumption Poverty Line (TCPL) for Zimbabwe stood at $4,987.35 per person in January 2021. This means that an individual required that much to purchase both non-food and food items as of January 2021 in order not to be deemed poor.”

The above numbers tell a simple story, pensions have lost value and all pensioners are now considered poor if government payouts are all they live on.

Some pensioners have children and grandchildren who rely on them and the money they get cannot buy mealie-meal, cooking oil, a kilogram of beef, juice and a few toiletries.

It is important to remember that pensions and other social services are not a product of state benevolence but instead, are a product of taxes.

The fact that the world and the country are battling Covid-19 has worsened the situation in Zimbabwe for those reliant on social services.

In cases where some would quietly subsidise the country, by going onto the street to hustle, circumstances have changed.

Covid-19, a reminder of importance of social services

They are now unable to do so due to the prevalent lockdowns which have run for close to a year now.

The situation is now desperate, a drive along the country`s major urban roads show cars manned by grey haired citizens, lined up selling fruits and vegetables, something which was frowned upon not so long ago.

Such sights and other forms of desperation underpin the manner in which those who were supposed to be benefitting from solid social services are now left to dry.

It is not because the funds are not there, but there has always been a curious method of prioritization from those who lead the country.

At a time when families in Harare South could do with food packs, they decided to build Mbuya Nehanda`s statue right in the middle of Harare CBD.

History is beautiful, but mistimed narrations will only further enrage people.

The pressure on non-existent social services is indicative of how the country has economically disintegrated over the years.

Most people, who would otherwise be well standing in society are now in need of social service and financial assistance, yet they do not meet the traditional criteria.

For instance, a teacher or a nurse, who earns ZWL$17 000 per month, is unable to buy a full set of uniforms needed at most Zimbabwe schools without touching two months of their salary.

As a result, they too should be incorporated when handouts are extended from the state coffers despite being listed as gainfully employed.

We have all been rendered poor by the current administration and most people are one episode of misfortune away from destitution.

Even President Emmerson Mnangagwa accepted that times are difficult for Zimbabweans.

When he extended the lockdown, in his speech there were tones of empathy as he appeared to understand that life is difficult for citizens in these difficult times.

One would wish that such empathy could be sustained, to a point where everyone in society has access to basics in life.

At a time when natural disasters and pandemics are altering human life, there is a need for the government to maintain a war chest which will enable an easy response in such times.

Two years after Cyclone Idai, the displaced families are yet to be relocated in decent shelters and they have had to endure a pandemic in such sorry conditions.

Covid-19 should inspire the national leadership to introspect on why it has abandoned its poor, especially in these times of great need.

Covid-19, a reminder of importance of social services

Covid-19, a reminder of importance of social services

Wordpress Social Share Plugin powered by Ultimatelysocial