Suicide by Covid-19, the Zimbabwe way? -Cathy Buckle

Zimbabwe Independence hasn’t been celebrated with its usual mass gatherings, as Covid-19 containment keeps people away, though the government propaganda about how well Zanu-PF runs a country continues four decades on. President Emmerson Mnangagwa gave himself and his team a big pat on the back in a televised speech for getting the country back on track financially, blaming Covid-19 for derailing some of their plans. As Zimbabwean author Cathy Buckle observes, conspicuously absent from Mnangagwa’s talk was any mention of the next steps for the country to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic as its first lockdown period comes to an end. Zimbabwe, like South Africa, has reported relatively few deaths from Covid-19. But the wave is coming, warn doctors. Buckle points to Zimbabwe’s suicidal approach to Covid-19 as does the Zimbabwe Association for Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR), which is taking court action to compel the authorities to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) for medical practitioners. PPE is a “luxury” the government is failing to provide and many medics in the country’s troubled health sector will otherwise die, ZADHR says in the court application, seen by the British Guardian newspaper. Notably, Zimbabwe’s top politicians appear to have easy access to PPE, all sporting protective masks as they listened to the President’s live address. – Jackie Cameron

Zimbabwe: “suicidal” to end lockdown

By Cathy Buckle*

I am writing this letter on the 18th April 2020, Zimbabwe’s 40th  anniversary of Independence. At the time of writing, the official Covid-19 figures in Zimbabwe are: 24 positive/active cases and 3 fatalities. We are in day 20 of a 21 day lockdown.

Our only TV broadcaster in the country, ZBC TV, announced at 8am today that they would broadcast live the President’s address to the nation on the occasion of our 40th Independence. At 9am I tuned in to ZBC to see President Mnangagwa walking down a red carpet at State House to a podium.

About a dozen people, all wearing masks, were seated at a suitable social distance apart and the President began speaking. At 09.25 the screen suddenly froze with President Mnangagwa silenced in mid sentence; a Covid-19 advert sponsored by Coca Cola followed and then a portion of a film about the design of the Zimbabwean flag.

No notice or apology for the loss of the live video was made by ZBCTV and at 09.31 the President’s speech reappeared on screen, again in mid sentence. It lasted one minute before freezing again in mid sentence and did not come back and so we were left hanging, searching internet sites for the remaining nine minutes of the speech (because you can say an awful lot of things in nine minutes).

Also read: As police officers show, Zimbabwe has NO HOPE of containing Covid-19 – Cathy Buckle

We were sure that the President would have said something in his speech about the extension or not of the Coronavirus lockdown, now just one day from ending but he did not, and again we are left hanging. Do businesses, banks, shops and factories re-open on Monday? Do people go back to work? Have we wasted the gains we may have made during the last three weeks and, most importantly, what’s the plan going forward for getting food urgently to the 7.7 million people who the WFP say are ‘food insecure.’ Two food insecure households that I contacted in the last few days both replied to my question about food aid saying they’d received absolutely nothing from anybody.

In the last few days the warnings from medical professions have been frightening. The Secretary General of the Zimbabwe Professional Nurses Union said it would be “suicidal” to end the lockdown as the country was still “miles away from being in a solid position.” Health experts say that Zimbabwe has not met any of the World Health Organisation’s six general conditions that need to be met before a lockdown is lifted.

Also read: SA to fence off Zimbabwe to prevent spread of coronavirus

Day after day in the past twenty days we have seen crowds of desperate people clamouring for food, clearly unable to stay at home because their families are hungry. We’ve read numerous reports of people being beaten by soldiers and police for violating lockdown which culminated in Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights making an urgent application to the High Court to get the beatings stopped.

The High Court ruled that: ”soldiers, police and other state security agents should respect human rights, the dignity of people and their fundamental freedoms and rights while enforcing the country’s national coronavirus lockdown regulations.” NewsDay reported one incident in their paper to highlight exactly what was going on while we were all blindfolded because we were staying at home: “In one case, a young man who had forgotten his official letter was asked to lie on the tarmac and was assaulted on his back with a sjambok,[whip] and given five strokes which the soldier in point said was equivalent to the  number of days left before the 21-day mark of the lockdown.”

In common with so many other horrific times in our country however, the worst has exposed the best: private companies and individuals in Zimbabwe have stepped forward to help get us ready to face Covid-19: refurbishing dilapidated hospital facilities, drilling boreholes, providing water pumps, solar systems, ventilators and so much more. We thank them all and we thank all our health professionals at the frontline. I end with a message of condolence to the families and friends of all our Zimbabwean health workers in the Diaspora who have died from Covid-19, far from home but in our hearts, may you go gently into the sunset.

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