Veterans of Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle have asked government to review their monthly pensions in line with the poverty datum line and the rising cost of living.
The economy is beset by rising inflation which economists estimate at over 500% and foreign currency shortages which have pushed up prices of basic commodities.
This comes at a time salaries have not been rising in response to prices which are trekking northwards.
Appearing before the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Defence, Home Affairs and Security Services, Defence and War Veterans Affairs permanent secretary Mark Marongwe said payments to war veterans have been decimated by rising inflation.
“Our monthly payments have been eroded by inflation and we are asking for government to increase the payments as it has done to members of the defence forces,” Marongwe said.
The portfolio committee is chaired by Umzingwane legislator Levi Mayiiholme (Zanu PF MP) and is carrying an outreach programme gathering evidence from the public on the Veterans of the Liberation Struggle Bill.
Marongwe said the depreciating local currency has seen war veterans earning less than US$30 per month.
Since the introduction of the interbank market February I, the local unit has been on a free-fall against the greenback to ZWL$17 per dollar from ZWL$2.5 when the interbank market began operations in February.
Its depreciation has also been fuelled by lack of confidence afterthe government in June outlawed the multi-currency regime, credited with taming hyperinflation.
War veterans’ leader Andy Mhlanga told the committee the war veterans have been left out when government adjusted salaries for the civil service.
“The matter of war veterans salary increment has been on the table for a long time and the money we are earning is about ZWL$650, which is less than US$30 per month and that money does not help us to take care of our needs.
We are struggling and our lives are miserable,” Mhlanga said. Freedom fighters want the pensions to be pegged at the salary of a serving army major who earns up to ZWL$1,500 per month.
Marongwe said he had been asked by war veterans to follow up with Treasury as the constituency was being buffeted by the economic meltdown.
“The war veteran’s monthly pensions have not been reviewed for a long time and we feel that it needs to be increased in line with the increment to the public service members,” he said.
Marongwe claimed that Zimbabwe’s war veterans were poorly paid compared to their counterparts in the region, especially South Africa.
The request by Marongwe for a review in the payout to war veterans comes when the government has offered a salary increment for all the civil servants to cushion them against recent price increases and cost of living.
Zimbabwe has around 35,000 war veterans and Marongwe told the committee that the youngest war veteran or war collaborator would, therefore, be around 55 to 60 years now.
“Our pensions review tribunal has consulted relevant authorities and agreed on the policy of indexing war veterans’ pensions to the grade of a Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) warrant officer, so that whenever their salaries are reviewed, the war veterans’ pensions are also reviewed,” Marongwe said.
“Currently, the pension of registered war veterans is ZWL$650 and that of ex-detainees is pegged at ZWL$617 and the amount we are receiving is too little for us to survive and efforts are being made to lobby for a reasonable and meaningful increase and hence the ministry is proposing for an increase of the pensions from that of a retired warrant officer to that of a retired ZNA major.”
He also told the committee that there will also be need to increase school fees assistance for children of war veterans which currently ranges from ZWL$2,000 to ZWL$4,000 per term and is bench-marked against the most expensive government owned school, Prince Edward.
“We are currently investigating the possibilities of increasing school fees benefits so that they match the current demands in the country where many boarding schools are now charging fees in excess of $6 000 to $8 000 per term and war veterans are now required to raise money to top up school fees,” Marongwe said.
In 1997, war veterans were awarded a then staggering $50 000 pay off by the government.