Already burdened with increasing numbers of corruption cases, a protracted political crisis exacerbating economic meltdown and education standards compromised, as well as a growing gulf between rich and poor, Zimbabwe faces yet another false start with above normal rainfall adversely affecting the much-awaited summer season crop.
Government’s lauded pfumvudza maize planting programme will reward only a few with a few buckets for sadza – thanks to late provision of inputs which additionally has hit yields. Hardest hit are smallscale producers who in seasons past have provided the lion’s share of maize harvests, but who now face the need for food aid.
Year 2021 had given the Zimbabwean government hope to reduce hunger with an increase in agro-activities around the country. Due to Covid-19, many had resorted to farming both cash crops and horticultural produce for survival.
Since the commencement of Covid-19 lockdowns, the majority has been impacted with the government failing to honour its obligation to cater for the vulnerable through the social welfare.
Eighty percent of Zimbabweans became vulnerable during the first six months of lockdown, without income of any sort. The same figure reflects the number informal traders who were barred from operating or getting in to the CBD except for emergencies, buying food, farming inputs and medicines.
Is the country truly in lockdown? Sort of. Closed but not locked. Unending trends of bribery, corruption and extortion are the order of the day as law enforcers also struggle to survive. Their salaries, currently under review to bring them in line with market exchange rates. Meanwhile only fines for flouting lockdown regulations have been reviewed upwards.
The fines review has reduced numbers of lockdown offenders. Not that rules are not being flouted, but that offenders are no longer getting to the station, preferring to pay USD5 on the spot than ZWL5000.
Driving from Mutare to Harare an ordinary vehicle may be stopped and vetted at all roadblock points but a Toyota Wish may proceed and get into Harare with 10 passengers without any hassle if the driver honours his USD5 obligation at every roadblock.
Ditto informal traders and illegal money changers on the streets of every town; there should be a means for survival regardless of the alarming number of people dying of Covid-19. Almost a quarter of the population has migrated to neighbouring countries as economic refugees.
Sixty days’ lockdown is said to have reduced the numbers affected by a new strain of Covid-19 believed to have come from South Africa during the festive season. Finance minister Mthuli Ncube highlighted the country’s need for diaspora remittances, and these do indeed flow in.
However, the flood of homecoming visitors has spawned yet another challenge – that of fake Covid-19 negative certificates being issued and for which the authorities have no response.
Fearful and without choice, government employees remain loyal to duty, albeit operating at 25% capacity. Most affected is the education sector which has been attributed to a diminishing tax base and government insensitivity.
Education”s current 12.7% share of the budget falls short of the Dakar agreement by African countries to allocate 22% of total budget to primary education. Persistent pressure finally resulted in teachers’ salaries hiked from USD35 and USD140 after lengthy teacher strikes and stayaways contributing to a sharp decline in pass rates.
Worryingly when one approaches 10 people in the Health ministry and in government in general and ask what Covid-19 is, 10 different answers are likely to emerge. To what extent has the government invested in research of the pandemic and educating its officers so that a unified understanding and response plan is adopted?
For all of Zimbabwe’s wealth in indigenous knowledge systems, few scholars have looked into the effectiveness of local herbs which have helped many across the border in South Africa. Instead only 48 hours ago the country received a donation of vaccines from China.
Zumbani, an indigenous Zimbabwean herb became famous with little embrace from the local manufacturers, labs and scientists to investigate it as a possible cure for the deadly disease.
What really was achieved by lockdowns and extensions besides hunger, bribery and citizens playing hide and seek with the law enforcement agents?
Government however accepts that it doesn’t have actual figures of those who have contracted Covid, deaths and recoveries. There are many unrecorded cases with the majority of patients resorting to home remedies which have brought relief to some suffering milder cases.
That no reports from the Zimbabwe Prison and Correctional Service of inmates contracting or dying of Covid in all Zimbabwe’s prisons suggests a distortion of the Zimbabwe Covid-19 picture. Following the arrest of political activists Jacob Ngarivhume, Job Sikhala, Hopewell Chin’ono and Fadzai Mahere, their reports of dilapidated infrastructure and zero observance of Covid protocols in prison exposed State negligence.
Further evidence of judicial failure was seen in its incarceration of university student Alan Moyo for over 70 days without trial and refusal of his bail application.
Covid-19 has brought to the fore ravaging hunger, discrimination, suppression, poverty and rampant opportunistic corruption. Sadly, in spite of its vast mineral wealth , Zimbabwe is proving poorest in the region with decrepit road networks, food insecurity and dilapidated infrastructure which pose a challenge in its response to the imposing challenge posed by the virus.