The elderly deserve more support
Posted Monday, March 18 2013 at 02:00
The elderly were highly venerated in Africa traditional society. They were the custodians of wisdom, social, political and economic experts in the society around them. Gone are the days when such status for the elderly was at the apex of the social ladder.
In modern society, the golden age of elderly has been eroded by the dynamics of modernisation, urbanisation and technology that have fundamentally impacted on the forces of cohesion that used to hold African society together when the extended family system formed the pivotal point. The ties of obligation between members of the family have been weakened.
The elderly are now seen as a social problem, social liabilities, second-hand citizens who have outlived their usefulness and are worth disposal. Among other negative terms used to refer to the elderly, they are taken to be hard to please, full of complaints, unproductive people, ugly, disease-ridden, nagging, etc.
In the pre-industrial Africa, the elderly were revered, possibly because they controlled property and other valuable resources. They were the judges and both religious and political leaders in society. They rubbed shoulders with the gods and were believed to have the ability to evoke a fortune or vice versa to any member of society and society as a whole.
Veneration of the elderly is long gone! Veneration is now a reserve of some selected elites who control the factors of production, are physically healthy as opposed to the elderly whose health and mind have started to deteriorate, no longer control property and have been pushed behind in the backyard of society as retirees and deprived members.
Modernity and urbanisation have pruned the elderly of their branches of life, their children and grandchildren because they have all gone to cities for a fortune. Desperate and deprived, elderly end up dying of depression and stress in their “isolation-centres” in the rural areas where their most immediate and close friends and ever present “comforters’ are fleas, lice and mice in their ramshackle huts. What a pity!
The magnificent house (building) has forgotten the paramount importance of the foundation. The elderly, in real sense, form the foundation of our society and lives. They are the biblical vine and we are the branches - offsprings. No branches that distance or fall off its mother tree (vine) shall survive. It must die and dry up destined for fire to consume it. Allow me prophesy this.
This calls upon all of us to rethink and re-examine our behaviour towards the elderly around us so that we reinstate the elderly in their rightful position of veneration.
Zadok Kamusiime, Social gerontologist and teacher from Kabale