THE following is an extract from a ZimRights report titled RIGHTS IN CRISIS: A Human Rights Analysis of the COVID-19 Pandemic in Zimbabwe:The Covid-19 crisis has magnified the pre-existing crises in Zimbabwe. The crises in the national economy, public health system, education and governance systems have become even more apparent. Unfortunately, it is the most vulnerable in society who, while grappling with our country’s crises, have to yet again contend with the harsh reality of Covid-19.
These are exceptional times, and they call for a break from the usual. In as much as citizens have to adjust their lifestyles, likewise, the government ought to shift its focus. Covid-19 is indiscriminate and so should be the state’s interventions to curb its spread. Politicking, self-aggrandisement and elitism have no place in the ‘new normal’ forced upon all nations by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The only way one can remain safe from the pandemic is if their neighbours are also safe. It is therefore incumbent upon the government to ensure that its Covid-19 interventions are not self-serving but are grounded on pro-poor policies which seek to leave no one behind. Instead of focusing only on patchwork and stopgap measures to avert the Covid-19 crisis, the government should engender lasting and sustainable solutions. Rather than it only being a time for repair it should be a time for reform.
It is a time to build the resilience of communities in Zimbabwe for them to be able to outlive the coronavirus outbreak and to strengthen national institutions to withstand any future pandemics. As it stands, government actions and responses to the pandemic have been insufficient and have not been in tandem with the plight and needs of ordinary Zimbabweans. This calls for the state to broaden its consultations to include the voices of marginalised citizens who have erstwhile been counted but never named. The government has to listen to the concerns of thousands of Zimbabweans in marginalised areas where there is no internet or radio coverage, the millions toiling in the diaspora and the several million eking out a living by vending and running small businesses in towns and high-density suburbs. Zimbabwe has the opportunity to rebuild following this Covid-19 crisis. However, a holistic approach to addressing the challenges that the country has faced over the past decades is required.
Factors that have crippled the economy, weakened institutions and impoverished citizens, must be identified and addressed. Good governance, anti-corruption, and institutional building are some of the key aspects that the country should focus on. The government should also adopt a human rights approach to addressing the Covid-19 pandemic, design and implement evidence-based policies and mechanisms that seek to alleviate food insecurity and poverty.
The Covid-19 crisis has magnified the pre-existing crises in Zimbabwe. The crises in the national economy, public health system, education and governance systems have become even more apparent. Unfortunately, it is the most vulnerable in society who, while grappling with our country’s crises, have to yet again contend with the harsh reality of Covid-19. Politicking, self-aggrandisement and elitism have no place in the ‘new normal’ forced upon all nations by the Covid-19 pandemic. The best way to overcome the Covid-19 pandemic in Zimbabwe is to look beyond it and start planning, investing and working for a better future. In line with this, the following recommendations are suggested for the key stakeholders:
Putting human rights at the centre of the Covid-19 response interventions must reflect the fact that at the centre of the fight against Covid-19 are critical human rights issues. Covid-19 itself is a threat to the right to life and every other right in life. As the government puts in place various measures, it is important to pay attention to its human rights obligations and strive for the minimum possible disruption to the enjoyment of rights. These issues have been addressed by ZimRights in a number of policy briefs under Covid-19 policy advocacy.
They touch the areas of: Law enforcement, detention centres, protection of livelihoods, protection of the elderly, protection of persons living with disability, access to health care, access to basic needs like water and sanitation, protection of women and children, protection of the right to free assembly and association, citizen participation and protection of democratic and civic space.
Paying attention to these areas allows the community to emerge from the crisis better and more prepared for recovery and the aftermath.
Strengthen the public health system
The government should immediately prioritise the accessibility of essential public health services aimed at mitigating the spread of Covid-19, including, public awareness-raising, testing, surveillance, contact identification, and tracking. The focus of the government should also be on ensuring that citizens have universal, affordable and sustainable access to water, sanitation and hygiene (Wash) services.
Improving service delivery should be part of the government’s strategy to counter the coronavirus and strengthening of the public health system. The state should recognise the citizens’ right to health and take concrete steps for its fulfilment. The government should invest in improving health infrastructure in the country and the remuneration and working conditions of health personnel in public health institutions. The state should also ensure that there is transparency and accountability in the management and administration of the public health policies system.