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In Zimbabwe, Seniors Sleep on the Street to Ensure Receiving Monthly Social Security Benefits

Global Press Journal by Evidence Chenjerai - Thursday 20th April, 2017

MUTARE, ZIMBABWE - Around 6 p.m. the night before the 13th of each month, pensioners start trickling in from all over Manicaland province. They queue up here in Zimbabwe's fourth-largest city, taking their places on the pavement outside the OK Arcade to ensure they will be among the first 100 customers when the People's Own Savings Bank's (POSB) Mutare branch opens the next morning.

Sleeping in line overnight increases the chances of withdrawing in a single day all, or at least most, of their $60 monthly pension that the National Social Security Authority (NSSA) deposits for them. Zimbabwe's constitution entitles all citizens 70 or older to $60 in social security benefits.

To prevent banks from running out of cash, the government in late 2016 imposed withdrawal limits, which now stand at $100 per day and $300 per week. Yet banks still run out. This poses special problems for elderly citizens who have to travel long distances to receive their pensions not only in Mutare, but in other cities as well.

Sleeping on the Sidewalk

Angelina Kasambira travels from her rural home in Chakohwa about 80 kilometers (50 miles) away twice a month - once for her social security funds and another time to collect her deceased husband's pension. She takes the bus and pays $3 each way. Even though she has a place to stay in town, she must sleep on the street in front of the bank to secure her place in line.

"Sometimes, even after booking a spot among the first people in the queue, the bank may give you half or less from the $60 NSSA pension fund," she says. "I sometimes spend at least three days to get the money being given $25 withdrawal limits because the bank will not have a lot of cash."

Sleeping on the street is uncomfortable - there are no toilets or sources of drinkable water - and it is risky.

POSB public relations officer Simukayi Mutamangira said the bank's policy is to serve senior citizens first so they shouldn't even have to stand in queue let alone wait overnight on the street. He added that in some cases an additional counter

can be opened to ensure senior citizens get faster service.

Mutamangira says the POSB takes special care of seniors in other ways too. Account holders 75 or older are exempt from bank charges, he says, while customers

from 65 to 74 years have reduced charges. He says the bank tries its best to equitably distribute the money.

While the NSSA provides a list of pensioners and electronically transfers the funds to be paid out on the 13th each month, Mutamangira says, "all the money in banks comes from the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe and amongst that (NSSA pensions fund) there is also money for all other customers."

Pensioners in Mutare say the bank used to serve them first so they didn't have to stand in lines. But that was before the cash crisis began in early 2016.

Special Efforts Needed

Blessing Nyamaropa, regional manager for Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights Manicaland and Masvingo, says both NSSA and POSB should take special efforts to pay pensioners on the 13th of each month.

The current situation, Nyamaropa says, "is a violation of the rights of the elderly. This is disrespectful of our senior citizens who should be assisted by all means."

Pensioners have come long distances to wait in line to collect their monthly social security payments at the People's Own Savings Bank in Mutare, Zimbabwe. They say the bank often runs out of funds before it can pay all that it owes on the 13th of each month when pensions are due.

Evidence Chenjerai, GPJ Zimbabwe

Evidence Chenjerai, GPJ reporter, translated some interviews

from Shona.

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