The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Gender Equality, Social Development and Family Affairs undertook a weeklong fact-finding mission to the Zambezi, Kavango West and East and Otjozondjupa regions from May 30 to June 4.
The visits were aimed at soliciting input from stakeholders on whether there’s a need to build old age homes and ascertain the living conditions and needs of elderly people in the country. The northern part of Namibia largely lacks such facilities, particularly due to cultural beliefs.
The visits were further necessitated by the introduction of a motion on old age homes tabled in the National Assembly last year. The parliamentary standing committee is tasked with consulting all the stakeholders to come up with recommendations in parliament.
When paying courtesy calls on governors of the three regions, the head of the parliamentary committee delegation, Loide Shinavene, emphasized the importance of old age homes, debunking a misconception that such institutions would be a dumping ground for the elderly.
“We feel there’s a great need to build old age homes. We would like to help the elderly that are neglected by their own children and those that feel they need a place of refuge. These homes are going to be voluntary. We are just here to seek advice on this motion,” stressed Shinavene.
Dennis Muyunda, a church leader in the Zambezi Region, noted that with the rapid erosion of moral and cultural values, and modernization, families are becoming more and more fragmented leading to less care for the elderly.
“There was enough care for the elderly in the past. With civilization and migration to urban centres, things have begun to change. I support this motion. Research needs to be conducted to determine the exact numbers of old people that need care,” stated Muyunda.
There was however mixed feelings on whether this initiative would work in the Zambezi or it would further disintegrate cultural norms and the family value system. Those that had mixed feelings included Kabbe South Constituency councillor and member of the National Council, John Likando.
“Our culture discourages us from putting our elderly in old age homes. The traditional way of life may be eroded because of these centres. The committee has to do more research and find out where these centres are going to be erected and how they impact the elderly, or else they will become white elephants. Bringing them to urban centres may restrict them from their daily activities,” cautioned Likando.
Kabbe North Constituency councillor Peter Mwala was also skeptical and felt it would cost exorbitantly to erect such centres countrywide.
“The number of constituencies are so many and this might prove to be very costly for government. Culture plays an important role in this region. We may build these homes but they will end up as white elephants. Why can’t we build homes for street kids instead?” queried Mwala.
According to Mwala, thorough consultations on a grassroots level need to be done to determine whether these shelters for the elderly would be useful.
“We need ample time to consult the elderly. We may find ourselves turning these centres into refugee camps because the elderly are not interested. When you confine our elderly they may also be affected psychologically because you have removed them from their daily traditional activities, such as cultivating their fields,” argued Mwala.
Kavango East Governor Samuel Mbambo, who also formed part of the discussions on old age homes, urged the committee to thoroughly consult the targeted people. He was in agreement that shelter for the elderly was needed in Kavango. The region is one of the most poverty-stricken regions in the country, where the elderly fall among the most vulnerable.
According to Mbambo, although old age homes are unheard of among the elderly in the region due to their cultural values, the country is transforming and the concept of old age homes plays a critical role in that conversion.
“The ideal in the African set-up is that we would like to see families intact and the elderly looked after. The truth is some of our cultural and traditional values are being overtaken by new developments. When we approach our people we must keep that in mind. Even our villages are being transformed and this concept is a remedy for that,” said Mbambo.
It became known also during the meetings that the elderly are being subjected to financial abuse and other forms of crime mostly perpetrated by their own relatives.
“They experience financial abuse when their relatives receive pension grants on their behalf but they never get the money, or not all of it. They also suffer crimes, their animals are stolen and homes burned.They live in fear,” complained a representative of the Gender Unit in the Namibian Police in Kavango.
- George Sanzila is the Chief Information Officer in the Division of Research, Information, Publication and Editorial Services at the National Assembly in Windhoek.