Tears of an ex-tobacco firm worker

His desperation is hinged on inconsistencies by the National Social Security Authority (NSSA) and his former employer Mashonaland Tobacco Company (MTC) after he resigned on medical grounds.

DONALD Makumbirofa (54) is a dejected man.

For the past five years, he has been struggling to be intimate and save his 30-year-old marriage.

“It has been four years, I am dejected because I no longer give my wife her conjugal rights,” Makumbirofa said.

Makumbirofa, who resides in Chikangwe high-density suburb, Karoi, injured his pelvis and spinal cord in 2020 while at work at a tobacco processing firm and was laid off work the next year.

“My wife is a vegetable vendor and is looking after me as I am not able to do heavy work and to make matters worse, I can’t even thank her through conjugal rights. It is haunting my marriage,” he said.

His desperation is hinged on inconsistencies by the National Social Security Authority (NSSA) and his former employer Mashonaland Tobacco Company (MTC) after he resigned on medical grounds.

He has lost hope and resigned to fate.

“On February 23, I approached local NSSA offices to get payment for three injectable medications. I had a quotation from a local pharmacy, but a NSSA officer refused to sign for the request,” Makumbirofa told NewsDay.

“My last resort is to commit suicide at Mashonaland Tobacco Company because they failed to remit my taxes to NSSA so that I can enjoy my benefits while I am alive.”

Makumbirofa’s prescription includes Tramadol and Etodolac pegged at ZWL$60 000 each and Diclofenac costing ZWL$40 000.

In United States-dollar terms, the medication, however, costs less than US$8.

Tramadol is used for short-term relief of moderate to severe pain, Etodolac is used to treat mild to moderate pain, while Diclofenac is also used to treat moderate pain.

Armed with a NSSA claims form, Makumbirofa never thought he could walk away empty-handed.

“It was my first time to seek medication assistance from NSSA offices, but was rejected,” he said. “Ironically, at Karoi Hospital I was assisted without any challenges. Unfortunately, the hospital doesn’t have the medication in stock.”

The pharmacy quotation dated February 23, 2024 “blacklisted” Makumbirofa from any assistance.

“Not yet accepted at NSSA. Still under investigation,” reads the statement.

For Makumbirofa, it was a devastating blow he never anticipated.

“I am now confused after MTC officials confirmed submitting all the wage bills of all workers to NSSA. Why is NSSA ill-treating me when I am in great pain? The medication they denied me helps to ease the pain that I am enduring daily,” the father of five narrated.

“They refunded my transport fares from Chinhoyi, yet they cannot help me with medication,” ranted Makumbirofa, whose 14-year-old son is enrolled at a local secondary school and his fees are causing him sleepless nights.

“I cannot afford the fees. NSSA hasn’t paid me anything at all,” he said dejectedly.

Two medical doctors certified his injury as 5% and 10%.

In 2020, while assigned to fumigate company premises, including warehouses and offices, having been contracted as a general hand in 2013, Makumbirofa fell down and sustained back injuries.

“The doctors gave me three days off with medication, but it went on for three months before the contract was terminated,” he added.

Makumbirofa’s last payslip had a basic salary for 162 hours pegged at US$232 and additional US$92,22 for overtime and US$25,78 for working during a public holiday.

Deductions included Pay-As-You-Earn (US$16,03), Aids Levy (US$4,32), NSSA (US$6), National Employment Council (US$1,62) and Union (US$5,67).

His net salary was US$313,43.

Investigations into the tobacco sector by a media skills development programme, Wealth of Nations, run by the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Illicit Finance Flows in Africa, has since established that the sector is largely being managed by cartels evading taxes.

Of late, tobacco has been suspected to be part of illicit financial flows, where taxes are not remitted to the tax collector, the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra).

However, MTC financial director Walker Jabulani Ntini said they had always fully complied with workers’ requirements on NSSA remittances.

“Where there are issues, the workers have various channels, internal and legal, to get redress. Going to the media is a publicity stunt, which does not change anything. We are 100% compliant with all of Zimbabwe’s laws and regulations. You could engage NSSA and see if they have any issues with MTC compliance. You could also visit the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority on MTC tax status. MTC is fully compliant,” he said in a written response last week.

“We are one of the largest tobacco merchants, and are very visible to the authorities including NSSA, Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, Tobacco Industry Marketing Board and Zimra. We would not be able to operate under their radar. We comply with all their requirements,’’ Ntini added.

NSSA deputy director (marketing and communication) Tendai Mutseyekwa said social security is a human right, dating back to the 1948 Universal Declaration, and enshrined in a range of treaties and constitutions, an adequate standard of living and other economic, social and cultural rights.

“As part of the enforcement mechanism, employees now have a legal obligation to regularly check the status of their contributions and membership record to avoid surprises at the time of claiming benefits,” Mutseyekwa said in a written response.

“In dealing with fraudulent activities and forms of non-compliance, NSSA employs inspectors who have statutory powers of inspection and inquiry to enforce compliance to ensure compliance by employers, employees and other persons with the provisions of the scheme in relation to registration of members, collection of contributions and premiums, Inspection audits to prevent error, fraud, evasion and to institute legal recovery options.”

MTC operates as a subsidiary of Alliance One International Inc, a leading independent leaf tobacco merchant serving the world’s cigarette manufacturers, according to its company profile.

It was formed on May 13, 2005.

This, however, gives Makumbirofa little to no comfort because his life and family affairs are in tatters.

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