PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government has been thrown into disarray after a number of ministers and senior bureaucrats were placed in isolation in the past week after either contracting the highly infectious Covid-19 or coming into contact with infected persons.
Tinashe Kairiza/Andrew Kunambura
In terms of World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines on the control and management of the pandemic, which had as of yesterday claimed 97 lives from 4 395 infections around the country, any infected person should be placed in quarantine until they recover while anyone who has come into contact with an infected individual should be quarantined for at least 14 days until they test negative.
The development comes just a week after the death of Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement minister Perrance Shiri last week on Wednesday.
Shiri succumbed to Covid-19.
Coronavirus cases have surged dramatically in the country in the past month amid a shambolic health delivery system brought to its knees by poor state funding and an ongoing strike by doctors and nurses at public hospitals.
Information at hand indicates that a number of ministers and officials who came into contact with Shiri during the last days of his life are now in isolation at home.
Officials said Mnangagwa, at the start of the cabinet meeting on Tuesday, asked anyone who had been in contact with Shiri to go into self-isolation pending testing.
This came after it had been revealed that Shiri, an energetic former military chief, had held several meetings in the few days leading to his demise, including with serving army chiefs.
“He (Mnangagwa) made it very clear that he expected anyone who could have been in contact with Shiri to self-isolate at home and avoid spreading the virus,” a top official said.
Among those absent at the meeting, sources said, were Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa, Mines and Mining Development minister Winston Chitando and Home Affairs minister Kazembe Kazembe who reportedly met with Shiri before his death.
“They did not attend the cabinet meeting. They were in contact with Shiri a few days before he died,” the source said.
Women’s Affairs minister Sithembiso Nyoni took over Mutsvangwa’s usual role of addressing the post-cabinet press conference on Wednesday morning.
The Information minister’s husband, Chris Mutsvangwa, is also said to be one of those who has gone into quarantine as he was also a contact of Shiri. He even missed Zanu PF’s politburo meeting on Wednesday last week.
Sources also said deputy Defence minister Victor Matemadanda, who is also the Zanu PF national political commissar, is also in isolation.However, he said: “I’m not in quarantine, I am not sick. Those who are saying I’m sick will be shamed.”
Contacted for comment, Mutsvangwa said: “I am absolutely fine. My husband is fine. The issue is that everyone is just taking precautionary measures and you should also be doing that.”
Kazembe said yesterday was his 13th day in self-isolation and would be out today.
“Yes that’s correct. I decided to self-quarantine as a precaution. We had a meeting with the late retired Air Chief Marshal Shiri on Thursday 23 July. Prior to that, I obviously met him frequently. I decided to self-quarantine. So far everything is okay, the results are good and I’m very fit, but I just did not want to take chances. Since then I have been working from home,” Kazembe said.
“I urge fellow Zimbabweans to take this pandemic seriously and act responsibly. Together we can win this war against this invisible enemy.”
The Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement is now virtually crippled after co-deputy ministers Vangelis Haritatos and Douglas Karoro have also gone into self-isolation, while a total of 40 employees at the ministry’s Ngungunyana Building offices tested positive for Covid-19. The building has since been shut down.
“Both deputy ministers and some very senior officials at the ministry are now in isolation. Some have contracted the virus, but others are doing it as a matter of precaution,” a government source said yesterday.
Haritatos said: “I am following very strict WHO guidelines in order to protect my family and those who work close to me. It was an extremely difficult decision given that now that we have lost our commander in the late Minister Shiri that the workload has increased ever so much, but it was certainly a must.
“After I come out of self-isolation … I need to continue the vision of our late minister of making Zimbabwe food and nutrition self-sufficient and the breadbasket of Africa once again.”
Karoro and Chitando were not reachable and had not responded to enquiries sent to them at the time of going to print.Youth, Arts, Sport and Recreation deputy minister Tino Machakaire is also in isolation after contracting the virus.
The youthful Wedza South legislator made the announcement on his Facebook page on Tuesday.“I have also tested positive for Covid-19 and I have since self-isolated. In times of a pandemic, privacy concerns must be balanced with efforts to protect others. l have decided to be responsible and I am appealing to everyone l have been in contact with recently to go and get tested, self-isolate and seek necessary help,” he wrote. “This is a painful journey; it separates you from your loved ones. Self-isolation is not easy at all. The kids want to play with you, but you can’t entertain them. I pray for everyone’s safety and well-being. I do not wish this for anyone. For those who are already affected, let’s continue to pray together and hope for a better tomorrow. Our health will soon be restored.”
But even as some of the infected individuals openly revealed their health status, Information permanent secretary Nick Mangwana professed ignorance about the quarantine of cabinet ministers.
“I am not aware of any cabinet minister in either quarantine or isolation,” Mangwana said. “Cabinet ministers are being tested regularly for the protection of the President, their colleagues, ministry officials and their families.”
The Parliament of Zimbabwe suspended business two days before Shiri’s death after eight legislators tested positive, resorting to holding virtual sessions. The former Air Force commander, who died at 61, had recently attended a number of sessions in parliament where he interacted with various legislators from across the political divide.
This week, Harare South National Assembly representative Tongai Mnangagwa publicly announced via Twitter handle that he had tested positive for Covid-19. He encouraged those he had come in contact with to be tested.
The ruling Zanu PF party has also announced that 26 of its employees at its national headquarters have tested positive for the coronavirus.
Sources also said Shiri, who still enjoyed deep loyalties within the army despite having been retired nearly three years ago, attended a meeting of military commanders at the Zimbabwe National Army headquarters in Harare on July 15, which was meant to devise strategies for containing street protests that had been scheduled for July 31.
A number of them, including the now late army spokesperson Colonel Overson Mugwisi, who attended the meeting are reported to have tested positive for Covid-19.
Mugwisi died in a military hospital at the Josiah Magama Tongogara Barracks on Friday morning.
“Mugiwisi already had flu-like symptoms by the time of Shiri’s death. They had a meeting earlier as they planned on how to contain the demonstrations of July 31. So, subsequently, he went for a Covid-19 test in the afternoon of July 29. The results came the next day when his condition had seriously deteriorated as he also had a heart problem,” a family source said