Thursday, March 24, 2011

stealing from peter to pay paul

Swaziland's government, feeling the pinch of a growing financial crisis, has suspended this quarter’s pensions for the elderly and redirected the money to pay the school fees of orphans and vulnerable children. About 5 percent of Swaziland's approximately one million people are 60 years old or older and eligible for pensions.

The pension stipends are indispensable for many of the elderly, as there is no alternative form of social security and private sector pensions are rare. The grants were increased two years ago from $21 per quarter to $85 and are paid four times a year. But a loaf of bread costs about $1, so most people subsist on maize-meal, supplemented by wild spinach, edible herbs, emasi (sour milk) and occasionally meat.

"You cannot live on such money as government provides but it can help you survive," said Gogo Khumalo, a 70-year-old widower in rural Mliba, 100km east of the capital, Mbabane.

Roughly two-thirds of Swazis live below the poverty line. Swaziland has the world's highest HIV prevalence rate - 26.1 percent - and one in four Swazis between the ages of 15 and 49 are living with the virus. Mbabane recently saw the largest anti-government protests in years, sparked by the construction of "vanity projects" like a new $1 billion international airport, built at the expense of social services.

"Taking from the elderly to meet the needs of orphans and vulnerable children is stealing from Peter to pay Paul," Solomon Thwala, a primary school teacher, told IRIN. "There are sources of funding other than putting the elderly in jeopardy."

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