Chikondi Mawindo of Group Village Headman Ntholola in the area of Sub-Traditional Authority Nanseta in Thyolo swears that all the pains she has endured in her 62 years of living on earth are nothing compared to what June 16 2013 brought to her. This is the day she says she experienced the ugly side of growing old in a Malawian Village.
Mawindo recalls that while waiting for the first cock-crow, which wakes her up ready for farm work, she heard a faint, but loud noise from a distance. The next thing she remembers was a big bang on the main door of the house. It was an angry assemblage baying for her blood.
“They hit my door and I was very frightened. I knew something was wrong and I quickly picked the two nieces I live with and used the back door to escape into a nearby bush,” she says.
From a distance, while enduring the cold winter weather, Mawindo, who lives with two orphans left by her deceased daughter, could see the gang setting ablaze their grass-thatched house.
“I wailed in deep pain. They could have killed me,” says Mawindo.
It was mysterious death of a teenager in the village that steered this tumult. Nonetheless, the woman says this was not the first time some villagers accused her of witchcraft and responsible for deaths of some community members.
At one time, she was forced to drink pepper solution to tame the alleged witchcraft in her. Mawindo argues that growing old in the village turns one into a witch, a threat and borne of hate insults.
With the help of some church members, she transferred and constructed a small house where she now lives. They live like foreigners and without any formal source of income, Mawindo sees no reason to live.
Worse still, Mawindo cannot keep the girls in school. They accompany her to do piece works.
HelpAge International (HAI) ranks Malawi amongst the top 10 worst countries to grow older. The elderly live a tough life.
In Chikwawa, Eliza Chimwaza of Mwanda Village in T/A Malemia is in a similar situation. Aged 60 and widowed she takes care of two grand children.
She says she encourages the children to be in school so that they can eat porridge under the school feeding programme and they also take their portion home to eat with the grandmother.
HAI estimates that 50 to 60 percent of orphans live with grandparents in Malawi and that most of the elderly live without any support.
Lusungu Ngulube, country manager for Joshua Orphan and Community Care, which runs a project on supporting the elderly says it is possible to create a conducive environment for the elderly. He accuses community leaders of sidelining the elderly in community activities, including relief services.
Mary Shawa, Secretary for Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare, argues that Malawi is on track in protecting and supporting the elderly. She says through the social protection policy, government is reaching 160 households in 18 districts with cash transfers. Soon, the programme will reach the other 10 districts.
Researcher Zifa Kazeze, in a paper titled Social Protection and Ageing in Malawi punches holes in the social protection programme, saying it is not comprehensive.
“To fully understand the challenges and opportunities of the elderly, there is need to understand factors that determine the well-being of elderly persons,” Kazeze argues.
But Shawa insists they have done enough research and this is why they coined the elderly care centre initiative, but says government feels let down by some older persons.
“We have a centre for the elderly in Neno, but no one is there. They refuse to be there saying they feel isolated. They prefer being in the village and interact with others. At the moment they come only once to interact, but sincerely, the care they can get while at the centre is different from that offered while in the village, “explains Shawa. n