Over 70 widows of deceased employees of the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) reside in extreme poverty in Bulawayo, receiving a pitiful Zw$1 200 each month, or $2.
After enquiring with the NRZ about the low pension stipends, the widows told a local publisher that they were promised that they would begin getting US$18 per month with effect from this month.
The widows, most of whom are over 65 years of age, feel the parastatal has been ignoring their plight despite that their husbands worked for the parastatal for several years.
They said they were neglected to the extent that they were living in abject poverty at a time when the country’s cost of living has sky-rocketed, with goods and services being charged in United States dollars.
“NRZ is taking us for granted, what can one buy with $1 200? It only buys one loaf of bread. Some of us are on medication, and we end up defaulting because we cannot afford it. We cannot take medication on empty stomachs. We are unable to pay council rates, pay for electricity or buy food. We live in abject poverty,” one of the affected widows who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.
Another widow, Margaret Ngwenya said as a result of the measly pension stipends, she was struggling to pay council bills.
“We plead with the NRZ to increase our pensions because we are struggling,” Ngwenya said.
Dorcas Sibanda, another widow, said some of the widows had died due to failure to pay for medical services and starvation.
“We have other members among the NRZ widows who have passed on due to starvation. How can such a big company give widows low pensions like that? They are old people who cannot fend for themselves. Some of these widows are diabetic, or suffer from hypertension and arthritis, among other diseases,” said Sibanda.
“Worse still even if old people do not pay fees at public health institutions, there are no drugs there. Widows are forced to buy their medication at pharmacies whose prices are very exorbitant. They are struggling to get food.”
Sibanda said non-governmental organisations offered projects like poultry rearing and farming for struggling widows in Bulawayo, but only physically strong widows could take part in the projects.
“Water-rationing schedules in Bulawayo have affected farming projects. We appeal to NRZ to review the pensions for the widows. What can one do with US$2? We also appeal to the First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa to assist us because we are suffering,” Sibanda added.
Most widows are said to be at risk of losing their houses after accumulating huge council debts, apart from debts owed to other service providers.
The NRZ pension fund asked a local publisher to send its questions in writing, but by the time of going to print the fund had not responded to the questions.
NRZ acting spokesperson Martin Sibanda said he could not comment because he was in a meeting. He also demanded questions in writing.