As Zimbabwe officially records its first two cases of the novel coronavirus, and one death, President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s ability or willingness to protect ordinary Zimbabweans from unnecessary Covid-19 deaths, pain and suffering remains highly questionable.
Until March 20, 2020, the global coronavirus pandemic and what a representative of the National Consumer Rights Association, a citizen-drive advocacy group, called the government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s “pathological attempt to hide the state of the situation in the country by presenting a false picture of good news everywhere”, caused Zimbabweans intolerable anxiety. Then the government had reported no Covid-19 case even as Zimbabwe continued to welcome visitors from some of the world’s most affected countries, such as China and the United Kingdom. Officially, Zimbabwe had only “suspected cases” of Covid-19. Fifteen of them.
The cloud of uncertainty partially lifted Friday after Obadiah Moyo, the health and child care minister, unexpectedly announced two Covid-19 cases. The virus has landed in Zimbabwe with a terrifying hunger. The second person to test positive died Monday, becoming the impoverished southern Africans country’s first confirmed Covid-19 casualty.
Zimbabwe’s official announcement of Covid-19 cases has only heightened concerns that divisive politics, a broken national health care system, and the Mnangagwa government’s well-documented incompetence, will severely weaken the South African country’s modest efforts to fight the virus.
The Mnangagwa regime is grossly unprepared to protect Zimbabweans from unnecessary Covid-19 deaths, pain and suffering.
Last week, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), declared Covid-19 a “pandemic”. He labelled the virus “an enemy against humanity“. He urged African countries to “prepare for the worst and prepare now”. On Monday, March 23, the WHO chief said:
The pandemic is accelerating. It took 67 days from the first reported case to reach the first 100,000 cases, 11 days for the second 100,000 cases and just 4 days for the third 100,000 cases. You can see how the virus is accelerating.
As of March 24, 2020, the Covid-19 virus had claimed the lives of more than 18,600 people around the world, with more than 416,000 confirmed cases, according to Johns Hopkins University’s COVID-19 live tracker.
Harare, the capital, and the Harare-based Wilkins Infectious Diseases Hospital, Zimbabwe’s only designated coronavirus quarantine facility, will be at the centre of the government’s already questionable response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The Harare city council, which runs Wilkins Hospital, is under the control of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC),
The official announcement of the Zimbabwe’s Covid-19 cases echoed the antagonistic politics that have bedeviled the Southern African country for more than 25 years.
As reported by The Standard on Sunday:
The government and the opposition-run Harare City Council yesterday issued conflicting reports about coronavirus cases in Zimbabwe with Health and Child Care minister Obadiah Moyo insisting that only two people have tested positive so far.
Harare council officials informed Nelson Chamisa, the leader of the MDC, “that two people had tested positive for the virus at Wilkins Hospital”, adding that the announcement “would have brought the number of cases in Zimbabwe to three.”
The Mnangagwa regime attacked Harare mayor Herbert Gomba for making public the fact that Zimbabwe already had three cases of Covid-19.
“The mayor has jumped the gun, our position as the government is, two cases have been recorded in this country,” Agnes Mahomva, the Health and Child Care permanent secretary, told The Standard.
Credible evidence confirms three Covid-19 cases in Zimbabwe. The Johns Hopkins University’s COVID-19 live tracker is based on evidence. It’s being used by governments and media organizations to interpret the global spread of the virus. As early as Saturday morning, less than a day since the Mnangagwa regime’s official announcement of two Covid-19 cases, the tracker recorded three.
Zimbabwe went from officially having no Covid-19 case to two reported cases and one unreported case, for a total of three. Zimbabwe has now joined 43 other African countries with a total of 1,600 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 42 deaths.
Health care system
In early March, Moyo, the health minister, claimed that the Mnangagwa regime was “100 percent” prepared to fight the Covid-19 virus, according to VOA News.
Zimbabwe’s healthcare system is completely broken. On several occasions in the past few months, doctors working in 1,600 hospitals and clinics run by the government across the country have protested against their deteriorating working conditions and poor pay. In November, the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association, a grouping of 600 doctors, equated the state of Zimbabwe’s government-run hospitals to a “silent genocide”.
“We have watched the past few months as the situation in our hospitals continues to deteriorate,” said the organization in a statement. “In March this year, the situation in hospitals deteriorated to the point where there were no bandages, gloves, and syringes available forcing senior doctors to highlight the dire situation publicly. It is important to find out why this has taken so long to be resolved as a silent genocide continues to be perpetrated upon the people of Zimbabwe.”
Quoting the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights, an association of doctors and other healthcare professionals, The Standard reported earlier this month:
Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights secretary-general Norman Matara said Zimbabwe does not have basic equipment required in the identification of the coronavirus also known as Covid-19.
Matara said the country only had two World Health Organisation-recommended diagnostic computerised tomography (CT) scans.
He said there were no adequate ventilators for continuous supply of oxygen needed by coronavirus patients. Zimbabwe, Matara said, needed to step up its surveillance system.
Wilkins Hospital is unprepared for a coronavirus crisis that will soon terrorize ordinary Zimbabweans. Harare city council is currently “mobilising $10 million” as part of an efforts to boost the hospital’s capacity to “accommodate between 100 and 500 patients in light of the coronavirus cases in Zimbabwe,” reports The Standard.
While countries with well-funded healthcare system are committing hundreds of millions of dollars to their fights against the Covid-19 pandemic, the Mnangagwa regime has only dedicated a paltry US$26 million to its so-called Covid-19 National Preparedness and Response Plan.
Then there is the question of national leadership.
It’s reasonable to question the Mnangagwa regime’s ability and willingness to protect Zimbabweans from a pandemic that will soon spread like wildfire through internal transmission.
South Africa, Zimbabwe’s biggest trading partner and host to millions of Zimbabweans, currently has the highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases in sub-Saharan Africa, with 554 confirmed Covid-19 cases as of March 24. On March 15, 2020, President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a “national state of disaster”. Then SA had only 61 confirmed Covid-19 cases.
“Never before in the history of our democracy has our country been confronted with such a severe situation,” said Ramaphosa in a statement that outlined his government’s initial “urgent and drastic measures to manage the disease, protect the people of our country and reduce the impact of the virus on our society and on our economy.”
South Africa’s initial measures include banning travel to and from some of the most affected countries such as the UK, US, Italy, China, Spain, South Korea and Iran. The government strengthened surveillance, screening and testing measures at major airports, and shut down 35 of its 53 land ports of entry. To manage an expected internal transmission Covid-19, the SA government prohibited gatherings of 100 people or more, and encouraged South African citizens and residents to limit non-essential domestic travel, including travel by bus, taxi, rail and air.
This week, the South African government announced 21-day nationwide lockdown that seeks to “to save millions of South Africans from infection and save the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.” The lockdown takes effect at midnight on Thursday, March 26.
So far the Mnangagwa regime has only confirmed the WHO director-general’s concern about “the alarming levels of inaction” in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Less than 48 hours after South Africa’s declaration of a “national state of disaster”, Mnangagwa finally bowed to pressure and declared Covid-19 a “national disaster” in Zimbabwe. He reluctantly cancelled major events, including the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair and celebration of the 40th anniversary of Zimbabwe’s independence from white supremacist colonial rule. Mnangagwa also banned public gatherings involving 100 people.
Zimbabwe’s two officially confirmed Covid-19 cases are directly related to recent travels between Zimbabwe and high risk countries.
The first person to test positive for Covid-19 in Zimbabwe is a Victoria Falls resident who recently returned from the United Kingdom. Early this week, the number of Covid-19 cases in the UK passed 6,700.
The second person to test positive for Covid-19 in Zimbabwe, Zororo Makamba, died Monday. He was a Harare resident and son of former MP James Makamba. He had recently returned from New York via Johannesburg, South Africa. New York state reported more than 20,000 Covid-19 cases earlier this week.
As countries with functioning and well-funded healthcare systems, such as Canada, rushed to protect their populations from Covid-19 by implementing drastic measures such as outright bans on travels to and from “high risk countries” such as Italy, Spain, China and Iran, Zimbabwe continued to welcome visitors from these countries. Mnangagwa only “encouraged” travellers to and from these countries to postpone their travel plans for 30 days. As reported by Newsday, an independent Zimbabwean daily, Mnangagwa said:
Travellers from high-risk countries are encouraged to postpone their travel arrangements to Zimbabwe for the next 30 days, starting from March 20, 2020. Equally, Zimbabweans are discouraged from travelling to, through and from high-risk countries during the same period. All designated small border crossings will stand closed from now until further notice.
Meanwhile, Mnangagwa violated his own ban on public gatherings involving 100 people three times since announcing the ban.
On Wednesday, March 18, less than 24 hours after declaring a Covid-19 state of emergency, Mnangagwa “broke his own decree banning all public gatherings in excess of 100 people by addressing a rally attended by thousands of supporters in Nyanga” in the eastern province of Manicaland, according to Newsday. Several cabinet ministers attended the rally.
On Thursday, March 19, Mnangagwa again broke his decree when he addressed over 500 people during the launch of his government’s new energy policies.
On Saturday, March 21, Mnangagwa attended Namibia’s 30th independence celebrations and inauguration of Namibian President Hage Geingob in Windhoek.
Meanwhile, the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) made an empty commitment to enforce Mnangagwa’s ban on gatherings of more than 100 people. In a statement issued immediately after the announcement of the ban, the ZRP claimed to be “conducting patrols, surveillance and checks to ensure compliance”. Speaking to the government-owned Sunday Mail newspaper, national police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi claimed:
We have teams that are patrolling and monitoring the situation to ensure that there are no gatherings of more than 100 people.
We are also working with the Ministry of Health and Child Care as well local authorities in monitoring the situation at funerals, drinking spots and any other public places.
We would like to urge members of the public to inform the police of any gathering of more than 100 people. Members of the public should understand that the measures have been put in place for their own safety thus there is a need for them to comply.
On Friday night, The Standard conducted a survey and found no evidence of the police’s enforcement of Mnangagwa’s ban. Instead, mere hours after the official confirmation of the presence of Covid-19 in Zimbabwe, “it was business as usual for revellers” in the Zimbabwean capital and other urban centres:
Pleasure seekers in Harare were not even perturbed by Friday evening’s “breaking news” that Zimbabwe had recorded its first Covid-19 case, as they thronged their usual social hangout rendezvous.
It was business as usual at popular hangouts such as Zindoga in Waterfalls, Kebab Leisure Centre in Eastlea, Mereki in Warren Park, Chikwanha Gardens in Chitungwiza and the popular Mashwede Village along Willowvale Road.
In the city centre, it was a hive of activity as most outlets operated normally.
At most of these outlets there was no monitoring of the crowds and a handful of police officers were seen moving around seemingly not bothered by what was happening.”
The Mnangagwa regime is yet to convince Zimbabweans that it has the capacity and political will needed to protect Zimbabweans from unnecessary Covid-19 deaths, pain and suffering.
The divisive politics, broken health care system, and the Mnangagwa regime’s questionable commitment aside, several other factors, including a collapsing economy, HIV, TB, poverty, malnutrition, chronic water shortages, poor 2020 harvest, and crowded neighborhoods, markets and public transportation systems in urban areas, also make Zimbabweans more vulnerable to the coronavirus.
Obert Madondo is an Ottawa-based blogger, photographer, digital rights enthusiast, former political aide, and former international development administrator. He’s the founder and editor of these blogs: The Canadian Progressive, Zimbabwean Progressive, and Charity Files. Follow him on Twitter: @Obiemad