By Alex Murimigwa
“Zimbabwe’s musicians have spoken loudly and clearly – and I have listened. As of yesterday, all artists in Zimbabwe are now permitted to play to a crowd of maximum 50 people. I am delighted that we can support our country’s music as we emerge from the pandemic,” President Emmerson Mnangagwa wrote on Twitter on the 11th of June 2021.
This was refreshing news to artists and their followers, little did they know, the good news was just a pie in the sky. Hours later, Vice President Constantino Chiwenga discarded Mnangagwa’s announcement arguing that the country is facing an upsurge of Covid-19 cases.
Chiwenga announced on the 12th of June 2021, “all public gatherings are banned.”
The announcement by Chiwenga created speculation that there are cracks in the ruling party.
Others also speculated that the conflicting statement could indicate that Chiwenga and Mnangagwa were trying to show the citizens who is boss among them.
But what is really going on in the presidium? Did Mnangagwa make a statement without consulting the health minister? Or did Vice President Chiwenga not hear the announcement by the President? Could it be that there is confusion in the cockpit?
The world over, the fight against Covid-19 requires coordinated efforts in which communication is central. It follows that Zimbabwe must adopt a coordinated approach in the fight against this pandemic.
Mnangagwa and Chiwenga’s statements leave a lot to be desired.
As of 14 June 2021, Zimbabwe has recorded 40 077 Covid-19 cases, since the first case in 2020. Currently, health authorities are monitoring 1415 active cases.
Since the first case was recorded in March of 2020, Zimbabwe has not improved much in terms of preparedness to fight Covid-19. There has not been much investment in terms of ventilators and oxygen supply.
Health care workers have been pleading for personal protective equipment (PPEs) which is still in short supply.
The same goes for testing and contact tracing.
Zimbabwe is currently administering Covid-19 vaccines mainly Sinopharm, Sinovac, Covaxin, and Sputnik. The vaccines are not enough, and the majority have come through donations.
Turning back to Chiwenga’s statement, taking precautionary measures to curb the spread of the virus is always plausible. It does not, however, warrant the powers that be, to suspend key public events like elections.
Elections are the soul of democracy and the right to vote must be always protected in any society that falls within democracies.
Four months after the vaccination program started, Zimbabwe has only inoculated about 693 568 people (with first dose), while 414 365 have received their second dose.
About 10 million people must get jabbed if the country is to attain herd immunity. At this rate, Zimbabwe will need more than five years to vaccinate the required percentage to attain herd immunity.
Zimbabwe’s vaccination program can be, thus, frankly summed up as a disaster so far.
Just a couple of days ago, the United States of America pledged half a billion Covid-19 vaccines to third world countries which Zimbabwe falls in.
The sad part of this story is that Zimbabwe will not be eligible to benefit from the donation because it does not have the infrastructure to store vaccines like Pfizer.
Chiwenga continued: “With regards to gatherings, the following measures are to be implemented. All gatherings except funerals are banned. These gatherings include but are not limited to weddings, church gatherings, music festivals, and sports activities.”
However, the situation on the ground, particularly in Harare Central Business District (CBD) at bus terminuses like Market Square, Copacabana, and Chinhoyi-Samora Machel, gatherings of more than 100 people waiting for transport to go home is a daily marvel.
The ZUPCO transport system introduced to cater for daily commuters has been overwhelmed from the day it was introduced.
ZUPCO buses are still ferrying more than 50 people from one point to another. This defeats the logic of prohibiting other public gatherings. The ban serves no purpose.
Government’s measures to contain the virus can be found to be absurd. Banning sporting activities that were already going under closed doors further confirms the ludicrousness of Chiwenga’s Saturday statement.
South Africa’s Covid-19 cases are way ahead of Zimbabwe, but their sporting activities are still running. Why would Zimbabwe then suspend its sporting events?
Limiting funerals to 30 people is not feasible in Zimbabwe. It is a limitation meant to justify George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Some animals are more equal than others.
Dancehall artist Soul Jah Love was buried in February this year at Warren Hills in Harare with thousands of people pitching up at the burial site. Government presided over the burial.
David Mandigora, a Dynamos legend, was buried at Glen Forest in Harare this Tuesday with hundreds of people in attendance.
The government itself has led a burial at the National Heroes Acre recently with thousands of people in attendance. These are just illustrations where numbers allowed to attend funerals were never adhered to. Chiwenga’s announcement was just an announcement.
Of late Zimbabwe has become a nation of public queues. In almost every town, people will be queuing at banks to access their cash. People also queue in their locations for water at boreholes and other water points.
So, banning public gatherings is just a circus. It is not applicable to the Zimbabwean situation.
What Zimbabwe needs at this hour in its fight against Covid-19 is the enforcement of basic health guidelines like properly wearing of face mask, use of hand sanitizers, and maintaining physical and social distancing.
While public gatherings cannot be suspended, the government can cap them at least at 100. This is so because people will always gather in search of social and economic services.