The Kwekwe Covid curse

BY NEVANJI MADANHIRE

Kwekwe sits smack at the centre of Zimbabwe. The A5 Road that runs from the capital Harare to Plumtree at the border with Botswana is about the second busiest road after the A4 which runs from the Beit Bridge, at the Beitbridge border with South Africa, to the Otto Beit Bridge, at Chirundu, at the border with Zambia.

The city is a two-hours’ drive from both Harare and Bulawayo; the two cities with the biggest population densities. This has many implications for the third Covid-19 wave which arguably seems to have the Midlands city as its epicentre.

If a single traveller picks up the coronavirus from Kwekwe, in two hours’ time he would be in Harare or Bulawayo.

If the traveler infects five people in Harare who are also on the road, in another two hours Mutare, Kariba, Masvingo, Mutoko and Bindura would be infected in a matter of hours. So will Gweru, Shangani, Gwanda and Victoria Falls if the contrary direction is taken.

The lockdown imposed in the Midlands city is an attempt to stop in its tracks this web-like spread of Covid-19. But is it enough?

People are still travelling from Kwekwe to other parts of the country and no one can do anything about it. The travellers use all sorts of tricks to evade the lockdown, including using side roads to evade police roadblocks or even bribing the police to buy their passage.

Reports coming from Kwekwe indicate that the lockdown is not being enforced impartially on all public places. Kwekwe has become the city of gold with gold panners all over the place. It is well known that the gold-panning gangs are controlled by powerful people in politics and in the army and the police. These panners, euphemistically now called artisanal miners, are a law unto themselves and, in this, they are protected by their well-connected godfathers and handlers.

Reports also say most of the public places such as bars and restaurants are also run by powerful people. So, instead of following the rules of the lockdowns, these leisure places run throughout the day and night. They are a hive of activity and their patrons are known for their bad behaviour when under the influence.

Artisanal mining has a web of downstream industries and loads of people converge from all over the country on Kwekwe to be part of this gold rush. In effect, Kwekwe’s gold eldorado has become the country’s Covid-19 curse.

Many experts have debated whether the outbreak in Kwekwe marks the beginning of the third wave. Indications are it just might be. The solution to this now lies with every individual in the country to stay safe. True, many more livelihoods will be upturned by the new wave, as people lose jobs, but that’s probably the price everyone has to pay.

Besides the lockdown, the government should have done more to contain the virus in Kwekwe. When the first case was reported there, the government should have moved very quickly to roll out an intensive vaccination programme in the city and its environs. The policy of equitable distribution of vaccines to provinces is well-intentioned but it won’t help very much in the fight against the virus. The government knows pretty well that it doesn’t have enough vaccines to go round, therefore, it should have employed some kind of firefighting approach to the issue. It should have directed most of the available vaccines to Kwekwe ahead of other cities less affected.

As for the openly delinquent behaviour in Kwekwe, perhaps the military may have to be sent in to bring sanity to the city.