BlackFacts Details

Without social protection, it is hard being poor in Zim

By Gibson Nyikadzino IT is an early and hot Sunday morning in Mbare’s Majubheki area, Harare. A thick cloud of flies buzzes over filthy plates that are heaped in an outside sink because residents have not accessed water for three days. Ruvimbo Gezi (33) emerges from her illegally-constructed house, evident that it is not part of the main architectural plan. Just behind her “house”, a stream of sewage flows down the street. Her children are among others watching the stream with boredom as this is a constant occurrence in the neighbourhood. The mother of three, a divorcee and informally employed, Gezi has lived miserably since government announced the first 21-day coronavirus lockdown on March 30. Her situation is compounded by the piecemeal relaxation of lockdown restrictions and opening up of the economy by the government because nothing tangible to survive on has come her way. “Things have been hard and challenging after government announced the partial relaxation of restrictions. It is difficult to have a proper footing because everyone or the majority is trying to get things in shape and not looking at the concerns of other people,” she said. Gezi has never been formally employed, she has no medical cover, no constant source of income and does not qualify for social protection in Zimbabwe according to the Social Welfare Assistance Act Chapter 17:06. The Act compels government to only extend social protection assistance to a “destitute or indigent person” who is “over 60 years of age, is handicapped physically or mentally, suffers continuous ill-health or is a dependent of a person who is destitute or indigent or incapable of looking after oneself”. The government’s social welfare and protection grants are not meant for everyone, moreso in a time of crisis. Finance and Economic Development minister Mthuli Ncube in July said social welfare structures would identify the beneficiaries of government’s social protection grants. The mother of three believes she is among the “vulnerable”. “If government does not count people like me among the vulnerable who deserve social welfare assistance, then it is not serving the people. I have heard of the $300 cushioning allowance from government, but so far I have not seen anyone from government coming to the grassroots and monitor the situation. How will I fare with my kids?” she asked rhetorically. To United Nations Children’s Fund executive director Henrietta Fore, the coronavirus pandemic triggered an unprecedented socio-economic crisis that was draining resources for families all over the world. “Without concerted action, families barely getting by could be pushed into poverty, and the poorest families could face levels of deprivation that have not been seen for decades,” Fore noted. Without alternative income sources, vulnerable families still have difficulties despite government relaxing some lockdown restrictions. The International Labour Organisation announced that social protection systems are an indispensable part of a co-ordinated policy response to the unfolding crisi

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