HomeFeatureMsika’s widow bedridden in neglect

Msika’s widow bedridden in neglect

THE widow of former Vice-President Joseph Msika lies helplessly on her bed at her home in Highlands more than a decade after she suffered a serious stroke.

Wongai Zhangazha

Julia Balebetse Matumo, sister to vice-president Joseph Msika’s widow Maria, talks to her at her Highlands home in Harare. Pic: Shepherd Tozvireva.
Julia Balebetse Matumo, sister to vice-president Joseph Msika’s widow Maria, talks to her at her Highlands home in Harare. Pic: Shepherd Tozvireva.

Eighty-nine-year-old Maria Msika’s health has been deteriorating since 2004, just five years before her husband’s death and life has not been the same since then. Since then she has suffered several strokes that have left her bedridden.

She can neither speak nor eat. She eats through a tube inserted in her nose. Worryingly, she has no way of raising concern on benefits that she is entitled too.

Born in 1928 in Botswana and married to the late nationalist Joseph Msika in 1946, Maria became the main beneficiary of the family’s estate valued at US$320 000. Her husband died aged 85 due to renal failure and hypertension after being President Robert Mugabe’s deputy for nearly a decade.

After the death of the former vice-president Msika, Maria was entitled to a number of benefits under the Presidential Pension and Retirement Benefits Act.

According to Section 2(b) of the Act, “a surviving spouse of a person who dies whilst in office as president or vice-president of Zimbabwe after having served in that office for the term specified in paragraph (a) or (b), an annual pension equal to two-thirds of any annual pension to which that person would have been entitled if he had vacated office as president or vice-president, as the case maybe, on the day he died”.

In addition to the pension, the surviving spouse is also entitled to (according to Section 3 of the Act) domestic service, security service, transport, air travel, medical service, office accommodation, secretarial services, entertainment allowance and other services or facilities.

The opaque nature of how her benefits are being managed has fuelled tension between her family and government officials over her wellbeing.

Her plight mirrors that of many surviving spouses of senior government officials and liberation war heroes who are in dire straits after the passing on of their loved ones. It also brings to scrutiny the country’s safety nets which have been widely criticised.

Maria’s sister, who is based in Botswana, but comes regularly to check on her, Julia Matumo, expressed anger at the state her sister is in and the lack of proper maintenance of her residence.

Matumo also bemoaned how some of her benefits were being taken advantage of by some state officials. She said while Maria was benefitting from domestic service, medical service, security service, transport, air travel and medical service, she is in bad shape and in neglect.

“Last year her situation deteriorated after some officials took her to South Africa for shopping. I was angry that they took her without properly notifying her relatives and also how can you take someone so old and sick to shopping who also can’t speak? To me I realised some people wanted to take advantage so that they can go shopping,”

Matumo said. “Since then her health has deteriorated and in October she was in ICU (intensive care unit) for two-and-a-half weeks. Some senior government officials were shocked that her health had deteriorated to that level without them knowing. Do they even care to visit her? Last year I had to push and I met vice-president (Phelekezela) Mphoko to tell him about my sister’s living conditions. Part of the living room ceiling was almost falling off; there was no food in the fridge.”

The senior government officials who included War Veterans minister Tshinga Dube also visited the family home, fixed the ceiling and brought groceries for her, she said.

Matumo said she also queried why police details who were deployed at the late vice-president’s Ndire Farm in Concession, Mashonaland Central, were withdrawn from the property three years ago.

“Due to that, a lot of vandalism has taken place, soya beans stolen, among other issues. So who is going to protect the property? Is it because my sister cannot speak?” she asked.

Efforts to get a comment from officials in charge of the former vice-president’s residence were in vain.

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