Help Our British People in Zimbabwe Facing Poverty and Disillusionment
Odette H Lind
An open letter
I am a warden/consular correspondent (a voluntary role) with the British Consul in Harare. We are here to assist British nations who have problems and issues and act as assistants between the passport holder and the Consul. There are issues which the consul cannot attend to although they are helpful and qualified they have to abide by rules and regulations. I am outlining problems which should be addressed and which are not being recognized by the present British Government or other bodies.
Some months ago I wrote letters outlining problems being encountered by British Nationals in Zimbabwe and sent this communication to every British Government office that I thought would have been able to assist.
I had acknowledgments from the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats and the Archbishop of Canterbury and no one else. Acknowledgements but no comments, replies and no follow ups! The situation with, especially our older residents, is now getting to crisis point in many cases. I am therefore addressing this letter to Skye news in hope that you may be able to use the details in attempting to assist the people in need.
I am now outlining the problems that British citizens living in Zimbabwe are encountering in hopes that someone may take up our problems and that they are made known to the world.
Our consular teams at the Embassy, in Harare, are doing everything they can to inform us, and we as Consular Wardens have been asked to keep them informed of any incidences that may occur, and to assist them where possible.
We have a unique situation here. I looked after over 800 people when we had a registration system. We now understand that this has fallen away and therefore we have no idea who we are supposed to be assisting and supporting. This withdrawal of the registration process, we are told, is due to the data protection act, I quote the act as follows:
The Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) is a United Kingdom Act of Parliament which defines UK law on the processing of data on identifiable living people. It is the main piece of legislation that governs the protection of personal data in the UK. Although the Act itself does not mention privacy, it was enacted to bring UK law into line with the EU data protection directive of 1995 which required Member States to protect people's fundamental rights and freedoms and in particular their right to privacy with respect to the processing of personal data. In practice it provides a way for individuals to control information about themselves:
Personal data shall be processed fairly and lawfully and, in particular, shall not be processed unless-
Personal data shall be obtained only for one or more specified and lawful purposes, and shall not be further processed in any manner incompatible with that purpose or those purposes.
Personal data shall be adequate, relevant and not excessive in relation to the purpose or purposes for which they are processed.
Personal data shall be accurate and, where necessary, kept up to date.
Personal data processed for any purpose or purposes shall not be kept for longer than is necessary for that purpose or those purposes.
About the rights of individuals e.g personal data shall be processed in accordance with the rights of data subjects (individuals).
Appropriate technical and organizational measures shall be taken against unauthorized or unlawful processing of personal data and against accidental loss or destruction of, or damage to, personal data.
I cannot see that the registration process in any way was outside the outlines of this act – all registrations were done at the request of the British National.
I always telephoned and kept in contact with the people on my list on a half yearly basis, at my own expense. Now, with no updated registrations, if a problem occurred in the future how are we going to be able to assist? It is vital that we know who we are looking after so we can advise and assist them.
I have been contacted by a number of people who know I am involved in the consular correspondent/warden program – all asking about re-registration as they feel the need of the reassurance that if there should be a problem they will be contacted or have someone they can contact. It is understood there are between 10 and 12 thousand British people in Zimbabwe.
One reason given for stopping the registration program was that when the Japanese Tsunami occurred they contacted the 2 thousand odd British citizens in Japan and none of them required assistance. Our situation is very different – if there should be a problem it is likely not be a natural disaster but a man made one.
Our populations of British nationals are mainly elderly – many not able to use the internet or email and even have problems using their cell phones. The switch to obtaining passports, not through the embassy, but by downloading, filling in and dispatching documents individually is already causing problems. Many people here are not only not computer literate but do not own computers or cell phones.
The advice to those here has been to keep looking at the web sites set up for the area – but how can they do this if they do not have internet connections or are unable to use them – internet cafes are few and far between. It is also almost impossible to keep in touch with those who are computer literate as we no longer know who they are. We also have frequent breakdowns of power and communications.
Should we have, and we hope not, a situation like Sierra Leone, we would not know who to contact or what to do – the numbers of people seeking assistance would be outside the limitations of our consulate or those who help them. Not many people listen to the radio, our local television studio or buy newspapers.
I do think that the foreign office has not thought through the situation. We understand that we can no longer talk directly with our consular staff but have to connect through a call center in Spain. All the good will and connection that has been built up through the years has now disappeared. There is a very grand and efficient embassy here in Harare and staff that are helpful, efficient and qualified but it would assist everyone if they were allowed to do more.
The large and impressive embassy building is now being used only to house the Embassy and Consular staff who apparently are there to deal only with emergencies and British people in trouble. There are few of these now that the farmers have been sent off their land. The consulate is giving out the information that should anything happen then the frail and infirm would be their first consideration and everyone else should make their own plans. The nearest border is Mozambique – one needs a visa on a British passport – and once across the border what does one do? There is a security situation there and it takes funds to live in a foreign country. There are British people here who cannot even afford a passport.
There are people valid for free passports as long as they were born before 02 September 1929. The reason for this date we have been told was that these people suffered from the effects of the Second World War. I was born in 1945 and remember being held up to a window – I must have been about two when an unexploded bomb went off down the street – I still have scars from the glass. We underwent rationing – I still have my ration book!
It would be a great help to people here, especially under the situation that it is so difficult to obtain funds in this country, if free passports could be offered to other elderly.
The delay in obtaining passports and the new regulations are put down to security – recently one lady of 91 had her doctors letter proving here place of residence and her identity rejected and she was asked to submit her school records and her driving license – neither of which she had. (After correspondence with the Newport Office she is now finally having her passport issued and sent to Zimbabwe – but the stress she endured was not something a woman of her age have experienced.) This is all put down to security yet no longer does anyone have to sign that they know a person or on their photographs confirm that this is a true likeness of the person.
Documents have to be signed by a justice of the peace but JPs sit on every corner in Harare, they have no idea who you are or anything about you. One dollar obtains a so called legal document!!! We as wardens are no longer allowed identity cards – how can we expect an elderly person to believe who we are? This is especially so in the case that they have to complete a form with their credit or debit card details, or that of a friend or relative (most people cannot obtain these debit/credit/ cards as the banks refuse to send them to Zimbabwe – it is the same with cheque books). It seems as if we are being looked at as criminals, whereas in England you can complete forms on line and have your passport returned to you within a very short time by ordinary post….. I thought that there were potential terrorists in Britain – here we are being treated like criminals – aid being considered a sanctioned country and our own people being treated like this is dreadful.
Another serious issue is the issuing of visas – I assisted someone a while back whose sister was seriously ill in the UK. He held a Zimbabwe passport. Visas are only issued by a courier company called FedEx. It took 8 days to obtain his visa – FedEx was a great help but still he had to wait.
I continue on the issue that everything to do with Embassy matters are now being transferred to the internet and this a major problem here. Again I reiterate that most of our British subjects are elderly – they do not have access to the internet and are on the main unable to understand it. Trying to download passport forms is almost impossible for them – not only do they not have the skills or the equipment but the cost of ink cartridges is so high that they are unable to perform the printing required. This together with the slow speed of most of our internet services causes stress and confusion among our elderly. Our consul is no longer allowed to print out forms and the reliance on the internet and e-mail is just not viable in a country such as ours where internet access is often unavailable and knowledge of it is if not always what people in the UK and elsewhere are used to seeing.
I would like to request that someone approach the government and look into these matters and consideration be given to us in Zimbabwe. My earlier attempts have fallen on deaf ears!
This comes to my next point. Most of the British nationals here are of pensionable age. They either receive no pension or a frozen pension which is not adequate for their needs in this country. There are British people starving and living on handouts. My husband and I personally have fed people, and even their pets, as they had not been able to cope. Most people provided for their old age by investing in what was a viable economy. This crashed and the situation of the economy here has left many penniless and most unable to live in what would be considered a poverty line existence in the UK. The fact that we have to have organizations within Zimbabwe and South Africa like SOAP (Save Our Old Age Pensioners) and others to assist in feeding and looking after our aged is admirable as they are funded and staffed by volunteers. It is a disgrace that individuals have to support others in need but shows the determination of the British people here to assist their kith and kin. It appears that London does not look at this situation, as it has done in other countries, and we are indeed forgotten. There are British citizens living hand to mouth and Britain seems not to care. Aid is given to complete foreigners but not to our own people. It is understood that The British Government is giving a large grant of money to assist the people of Zimbabwe – and yet their own British nationals are receiving little or no assistance.
Most of our wards are elderly, as previously mentioned. Many have financial problems. Again I mention there is a problem obtaining debit cards, cheque books and transfers from banks who claim we are an embargoed country. It is impossible to obtain a PayPal account and even visitors to this country cannot operate their accounts. This means that access to e-Bay and similar companies is almost impossible. Trying to obtain money from an ATM is difficult or impossible and recently the only really safe source of obtaining cash from a bank account – suspended cash transfers – I understand they have now been reinstated. (Mukuru.com)
Recently we had a lady who was unable to obtain her cheque book or her funds – the Ambassador intervened and after some time the bank released a cheque book – a little late - the lady passed away 6 weeks later as she had been unable to feed herself in the period when she had no money. She was too proud to come to me or others who could have helped her.
I spoke with a lady a few days ago who told me ‘it is if we have been forgotten and discarded’.
A few years ago our then consul – Sarah Mannell – organized a breakthrough plan to repatriate British citizen who could not support themselves and were ill or just too aged to cope. It worked well but now we have another generation who are in the same situation.
The British nationals and their partners, even if not British, were taken over and set up in accommodation and with benefits. From what I understand there was only one person who returned here – and he returned the money that had been paid for him.
I have one lady on my list whose husband has Alzheimer’s she has been told the only way they could return to the UK would be by him obtaining a settlement visa – this is costly and takes time – no one can tell her what help she would get on arrival. They are unable to afford the costs involved. They cannot afford drugs for him and she is suffering from anguish and depression as she can do nothing to help. I have now another similar case which I have placed in the hands of our consulate. They have informed us that all that can be done is for her to apply to a charity – but they cannot give her any names she should contact. She has to pay $500 per month for a nurse and they only receive about $1000 a month in pensions etc. That amount goes no where in this country where inflation is excessive.
There are many people here in the same situation. It must be remembered that most of the British citizens in this country were brought here by the British Government – to work and advise or run vital instillations or were orphans, sent here to get them out of the UK. My husband’s own father was brought here by the army and they settled in a country that needed their services. An infrastructure was built up from roads to water supplies and more – none of which have been maintained. Yet we are continually being blamed for failings being encountered today.
Abandonment is the only word one can use. The British population developed this country and assisted its indigenous people to develop. They built and ran schools and hospitals and still do so when allowed to continue. Many of those no longer allowed to farm have had to leave viable schools and clinics – which have been, in most cases, demolished for the doors, window frames and bricks that could be sold.
People from here fought in the World Wars, some lost their lives or were injured, and yet we seem to be excluded from any benefits that might be available. Even the names of those that fell have been obliterated. I write this letter in hope that someone will recognize the situation. Either our selves or our parents were brought here to develop this country for Britain and now in our latter years have no funds to return to the home country. In many cases people have to live in misery. Britain brought out children to live here under the Fairbridge program – many are still here as they have no where else to go.
Help could be in the form of assistance for medical treatment and drugs, pensions being recognized at the normal level and, if necessary, food banks. Why can the consulate not allow pensioners the services of the embassy medical staff and drugs at NHS level? Aid is being plowed into Zimbabwe on a large scale but the British people here are suffering. How about helping our own – our forgotten – those who worked for Britain and are now discarded.
I can be contacted at the address, telephone and e-mail below:
No one has prompted me to write this letter. I feel so strongly about the fate of our people that I feel our plight must be heard and recognized. My name and this letter may be used in any interactions with any persons – published if required in media on television .
February 23, 2014
Odette H Lind.
18 Alveston Ave
Odette H Lind.
18 Alveston Ave
Tel 884663 or 0772328701