Somebody somewhere, a retired government officer, had solemnly advised his friends not to rush to retirement, warning them of the anticipated harsh life ahead should they take the tip lightly. He had told them in no uncertain terms that retirement actually meant nothing less that sure death.
After a couple of years, the message seems as clear as drinking water -- retirement is more or less a curse, at least as far as Tanzania is concerned, a hopeless environment one should not cherish at any cost.
To most retired people, laughter, considered the best medicine by westerners, is a luxury, because for what reason would one enjoy a laughter in the midst of abject poverty, brought about by spiraling food items and other necessities?
This is evidently a web of circumstances in which most Tanzanians, especially those of old age, are in.
Omari Sheshe (70), a retired plumber of former Tanzania Posts and Telecommunications Corporation (TPTC), lives at Mikanjuni location, Mabawa ward in Tanga city.
Sheshe lives in a one room apartment with his wife, Shida. They have three children- Martin (38), David (34) and Luciana (30).
Whereas Martin has no fixed abode, their father can not tell where David is.
“I am not sure where David is. I am not even interested to know his whereabouts,” narrated Sheshe recently.
“He is my son, fine. But when I went on retirement in 1996, at the age of 55 years, he and his brother, insisted that they have a share of my terminal benefits, because they wanted to start a private venture and try their luck in business.” said the retired plumber.
He added, “David, particularly, had demanded that I give him his share, urgently, so he could go to South Africa where people of his age were then making fortunes”
According to the ex posts man, David’s brother used the money on drinks and on whores.
“Remember, I had given each 500,000/- and remained with 1m/- which we used for buying food and raising up Baltazar – my daughter’s son, who was born a year after retirement. The man my daughter fathered the child with, denied responsibility. As a grandfather, I had no alternative but bring up the child-tasteful as it is.
Like Sheshe, most retired people live below subsistence level, a fact brought about by the poor monthly pension payable to them.
Pensioners are paid a regulated 50,000/- monthly.
The retired plumber occasionally leaves home at 7 o’clock and goes to St No. 14, near the Tanga Bus Terminal, joining a company of other people at a coffee stall, most of them retired employees of former East African Community (EAC).
The grim-faced coffee taker occasionally leaves the place and go to different destinations but comes back later, shortly after sunset and continues with deliberations – whatever the discussions are centred on.
But to Sheshe, a few hours prior to nightfall, is a torturous moment for him. Gripped with anxiety on how he will go home empty handed is too much for him.
All the same, he has to leave the coffee stall and go home. Eventually, he picks courage and travels home through short-cut routes, not because he wants to save money, but due to the reality that he has no single coin in his secondhand trouser.
Moving slowly destined for home, his head bent forward, he meditates on the possible outbursts from him nagging wife.
Shida, his wife, has always insisted to Sheshe that instead of coming home with nothing for the family- in terms of food items, he had better continued with whatever he had been doing in town the whole day.
But on this particular day, the cool tempered retiree, having arrived home around 8 o’clock, went straight to bed shortly after, sleeping under empty stomach. He was aware for sure, that he would have trouble with the worms in his stomach but decided better doing that,than facing a chain of questions which he could not satisfactorily answer.
This is normally the daily phenomenon facing Sheshe, though on some days, he manages to buy a few provisions for the family through hand outs from friends and fellow ex workers hence avoiding his wife’s brutality.
“They (friends) blame me for failing to buy a house of my own during the tenure of my employment. But how could I do it with the meagre salary – a paltry 410/- a month? he questioned.
‘The few who managed to build houses, enjoyed a few privileges such as overtime. Others were outright corrupt individuals” he narrated, adding “As a plumber, how would I engage in corrupt practices even if I wanted to do so?”
But some people interviewed, were of the view that however small the income may have been, a worker should, ideally, prepare himself for the retirement by building even a two roomed grass thatched hut to avoid embarrassment when he is eventually told to quit.
“I do not blame wives who become furious when their husbands come back with no food items to be cooked. Such people deserve ridicule from their wives because they should under stand that they are sole household providers,” commented Juma Tarimo, a city based businessman, adding that no woman on earth understands a man who fails to take care of his family.
But a sociologist, Felix Webster, a British national who opted far anonymity, is of the view that the government would do good to the pensioners on small incomes if they organised the retirees and enabled them to form income-generating ventures.
“The government is obliged to ensure that its people live happy lives especially in the case of pensioners who had served the nation diligently to take it where it is,” said the 75-year-old tourist on a two-week visit of the country.
He added, “ Something should be done to enable pensioners earn an extra money on top of their monthly pensions, otherwise, what good is it if the pension earned monthly can not support family needs?”
Additionally, said the sociologist, a legislation should be put in place to occasionally review pension packages so that those retiring lead a life full of hope-otherwise known as cost of living adjustment (COLA) to counter spiraling inflation.
“Most pensioners lead miserable lives be cause of the high cost of living. It transpires that even high ranking government officials undergo a similar ordeal when they ultimately retire. In fact it becomes even worse for them on account of the fact that they fail to easily condition themselves to the new environment,” said Abdul Aziz, a city business executive.
A local weekly tabloid , recently said psychological anxiety among retirees was among the factors contributing to steady increase of cases of paralysis.
The story, said local social scientists had established that fear in confronting prevailing hardship of life after retirement , coupled with uncertainty on possible errands one would have to make to Dar es Salaam offices to follow up his terminal dues, lead to serious health complications.
In 2003, the government came up with a policy on old people, but since then, it has failed to enact a law to ensure enforcement of the policy.
“The government has no concern for old people. It is fond of making frequent amendments of laws which it does not fully enforce, leaving older people in dilemmas”, said Ananilea Nkya , Tanzania Media Women’s Association (TAMWA) former executive director.
“Old people are not accessed to free and quality health care. Government health care facilities have no sufficient drugs while there is no mechanism in place to provide identity cards to them,” she said, adding that such people should be made to have secure income through decent work.