IT is the first of its kind for Zimbabweans. One which threatens them all. It calls for unity of purpose and it will surely test the fitness of country’s social security system, and the elasticity of philanthropy in a crisis situation.
LISA TAZVIINGA/ADMIRE MASUKU/LAWRENCE MANGENJE/NATHAN GUMA
For the first time, citizens are counting days together towards one finality — not the pay day or the end of a week — but the end of the 21 days of the lockdown on April 19.
It is a rare period — a time when nature has compelled people from different social strata, backgrounds and geography to have a mutual feeling and shared fears.
The Chingwizi disaster ravaged most parts of Masvingo, Cyclone Idai hit Manicaland province, leaving a trail of destruction, and recently, Binga was under siege from floods.
All these were isolated threats, whose effects were geographically confined.But, this time, Zimbabwe stands at tenterhooks as the threat of coronavirus, referred to as Covid-19, the world’s most dreaded crisis of our time, has entered the country. Even erstwhile rival political grandmasters have been jolted into a conciliatory tone.
MDC leader Nelson Chamisa has fittingly captured human nature, and the mood that lingers in the country.“It cannot be business as usual,” Chamisa said. “We have to change our ways. We have a duty not to ourselves, but every person around us. The disease is real. It does not discriminate.”
Chamisa’s messages mirrors that of President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who, last week, through his Twitter handle called for unity.
“Let us act in unity, peace and solidarity, and put aside unnecessary divisions. Together we will prevail,” Mnangagwa tweeted.
The fangs of the pandemic that has triggered a historic plunge in the US stock market and set the global market into a free fall threatens to decimate Zimbabwe’s ailing economy. The country’s usual responsive approach to crises worsens the situation.
Economist, Eddie Cross, paints the picture: “With the economy already in distress, the impact of this pandemic is likely to be serious. Companies need assistance to maintain operations and to prepare for any resumption of activity. People affected will not have any source of income and some sort of social grant is essential.”
But the extent of the damage will depend on two things, according to Cross: “How long these restrictions are to be in place and what assistance we might receive from the international community.”
Cross’ words are tantamount to a distress call for a people who have been suffering for over four decades.
According to a research conducted by the BBC in 2017, the unemployment rate in Zimbabwe stood at a staggering 90%. Most Zimbabweans survive on hand to mouth.
Brenda, a resident of Mbare and a mother of three — whose livelihood is dependent on selling vegetables, worries at the mention of the word lockdown.
To her it means three weeks of forced fasting.
“We do not have enough food,” she says, as her two children cuddle around her.
Brenda’s family needs 4kgs of sugar, 15kgs of mealie-meal and two litres of cooking oil to last a month. To buy these items, she and her husband, who works as a luggage carrier have to combine their earnings. But this is not possible with the lockdown.
They have to find alternative ways of surviving. In this time of distress, they are not the only ones affected.
Many people in Brenda’s situation are not sure what the next weeks hold. Some who were able to travel to their rural homes did so on the eve of the lockdown.
For this reason and despite their social class and differences — mainly political and ethnic-related — Zimbabweans are united in prayer, in purpose and towards one goal — survival.
African countries with sound economies are cushioning their citizens through the provision of social grants. But Zimbabwe is still working on a subsidy programme for vulnerable families — way deep into the crisis. This could spell disaster.
According to a statement issued by Finance minister Mthuli Ncube on Monday, treasury availed ZW$100 million towards combating the virus and is redirecting funds allocated to other sectors of the economy towards “health-related expenditures”.
While these measures and others are commendable, more still needs to be done.The grant offered by government only covers one million “vulnerable” families, leaving the rest exposed and incapacitated.
University of Namibia Lecturer and social scientist Admire Mare says, “More needs to be done to capacitate hospitals and improve working conditions of medical personnel.”
While Zimbabwe is playing catch-up and scrounging for measures to mitigate the effects of Covid-19, Mare says, “More quarantining facilities must be set up and donations from the Jack Ma foundation must be distributed transparently and to all provinces.”
While the lockdown is necessary, it could spell disaster for informal traders and other low-income earners.Tapiwa Dube, a local pastor feels government could face challenges enforcing the lockdown.
“A lockdown means key sectors on the survival of the general populace crushes. Informal traders live one day at a time, and living 21 days without production is unsustainable.”
While most people support the lockdown in light of the threat of Covid-19, they see government’s failure to invest in infrastructure and social security as the major headache.
Vince Museve, an economist, also believes a lockdown will be difficult.“We do not have appropriate systems to effect a total lockdown. We do not have the appropriate technology to monitor trends and for the past 40 years we have not invested in our social systems,” Museve said.
Museve adds that most people in Zimbabwe make do with a “survivalist” lifestyle and the lockdown will expose them to starvation.
As the country trudges through the lockdown period meant to flatten the Covid-19 curve, fears of starvation, loss of jobs and company closures are also swirling in communities.
It is a bad time, for everyone but the vulnerable are particularly more vulnerable.